Here's hoping the 2020 NFL draft serves as a model for the future. Here's guessing it won't

Dan WetzelColumnist
Yahoo Sports

In his four years as general manager of the Detroit Lions, Bob Quinn had said little publicly, in either volume or substance. On the rarest of occasions, often only to fulfill NFL mandates, he emerged to address fans via media or the team website. 

The responses were usually unmemorable and football-only. 

That was Quinn’s choice, and probably a wise one. In a league with a shield as a logo, accessibility won’t win games. It will create distance though, fueling the kind of unfamiliarity that can turn a franchise leader into a faceless character. Lions fans of late had come to refer to Quinn and third-year coach Matt Patricia as a single figure — “Quinntricia.” It wasn’t a compliment.

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Here on Saturday was a different Quinn though, on a media Zoom call following the strangest, yet perhaps most entertaining, revealing and fulfilling NFL draft ever.

Across three days, cameras had broadcast from inside his house, where two enthusiastic children (son Kyle and daughter Grace), each clad in Lions gear, stood by him when Detroit’s selections were announced. In between picks, they manned the Lions’ make-shift “Draft Board” — which was really just a poster board — crossing out the names of selected prospects.

“I thought that was really, really cool,” Quinn said. “They didn’t miss a player.”

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/teams/san-francisco/" data-ylk="slk:San Francisco 49ers">San Francisco 49ers</a> draftee Brandon Aiyuk (second from right) celebrated with his family at home after being selected It was one of many revealing and fulfilling scenes during this year's NFL draft. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
San Francisco 49ers draftee Brandon Aiyuk (second from right) celebrated with his family at home after being selected It was one of many revealing and fulfilling scenes during this year's NFL draft. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images)

Now he was discussing how this NFL draft, traditionally an unrelenting time, was instead an exercise in proper work-life balance. 

Suddenly, the 44-year-old general manager who normally doesn’t say much was profound, candid and even inspiring.

“I get emotional talking about this because I love these two kids, and love my wife,” Quinn said. “And it's hard to be away from these guys, traveling around to pro days and jumping on flights, getting home late, then sleeping for six hours and going to the office next morning.

“The spring is hard,” Quinn continued. "Especially when you lose all the time during the season ... Our business is stressful. There's pressure. We need to win. All that. 

“And you know who feels it more than I do? My wife and my kids. When you go to school and you lose on Sunday, and the kids have no idea what you go through, and they're giving my son and my daughter a hard time because we lost to the Packers or whatever. So it puts life in perspective.”

Maybe that won’t matter if the Lions post another losing season. Maybe it will.

Quinn’s sentiment was shared across the league, where the NFL draft attracted record viewership ratings, and not solely because the nation was sports-starved and quarantined. It found a way to connect the public and its favorite sport in a way no marketing campaign, fireworks display, red carpet or Roger Goodell bro hug ever could.

Even the commissioner, famed for being booed by fans wherever he goes, came off as an everyman of sorts. Goodell hosted the broadcast from his basement in a sweater and open collar the first two nights. He went with a T-shirt on Saturday, claiming he’d just been doing some chores around the house such as putting in screen windows for the summer. 

It was a scene repeated from the residences of GMs and coaches, where in the background little kids cheered and teenagers tried to play it cool. There were scenes from home offices, kitchen tables, plush mansions and even Jerry Jones’ yacht

Bill Belichick’s dog made a couple cameos. Mike Zimmer sat by a roaring fireplace. John Elway displayed all his Lombardi Trophies.

And something went down at Mike Vrabel’s house.

“It’s been a long quarantine over here, man,” Vrabel said. “We’ve got a bunch of 19- and 18-year-old kids and you know, they’re stir crazy. They saw all the other kids as the draft wore on, and they said, ‘Well, we’ll give our own little spin to it.’ It was fun.”

When the Miami Dolphins made a selection, coach Brian Flores was seen celebrating with elaborate handshakes with his young sons.

“Families together,” Flores said later. “So important.”

This was the NFL, a buttoned-up, self-important operation, allowing a peek behind the curtain.

“I think it's important for the fans to realize we are people too,” Quinn said. “My kids are people.”

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/teams/arizona/" data-ylk="slk:Arizona Cardinals">Arizona Cardinals</a> first-round pick Isaiah Simmons watches the NFL draft with his family on Thursday. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
Arizona Cardinals first-round pick Isaiah Simmons watches the NFL draft with his family on Thursday. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images)

A job in the NFL is coveted, exciting, intense and often lucrative. It’s brutal, too. The business is the business, a zero-sum, bottom-line, cutthroat competition. If you choose to work in the league, then you choose to work nearly impossible hours despite almost no job security.

The coronavirus pandemic shut a lot of that down and left everyone questioning the wisdom of spinning their wheels nonstop. 

Can’t we just video chat with that prospect, not host them on an all-day visit to our facility? Isn’t watching college game tape at home more insightful than flying to some far-off campus to witness a scripted pro day? Does a mid-morning playdate with my daughter actually sharpen my focus?

Wistfully, the NFL decision makers talked about how to incorporate the best parts of this bad situation into future drafts. 

“If we can find a better work-life balance in the months of February, March and April, I'm all for it,” Quinn said. 

Here’s hoping it happens. Here’s guessing it won’t.

The NFL isn’t going to limit the hours people work, which means the Type-A competitors who run these teams are going to return to normal and seek every last possible edge (real or imagined).

And while the down-home draft proved to be of great merit (when it comes to the players, the living room beats green room every time), the NFL will likely remain addicted to mass gatherings, populated by the wild scene at the 2017 draft from Philadelphia. This is a league, after all, where more is never less. 

Do you want Shakira or Jennifer Lopez to be the Super Bowl halftime act?

Both.

So this is probably a one-off, a blip in history in all ways. There will be a return to maniacal hours, sterile, distant war rooms, dress-up day for draft prospects and over-the-top productions.

It’ll be a shame, though. What we saw this weekend was brilliant television. What we saw was engaging and endearing. What we saw was fathers and not just coaches, family men and not just general managers, sons and cousins and not just draft picks. 

That guy you boo and curse, has an actual life and actual family.

They’re people too, as Bob Quinn put it. 

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