An idea for a four-day draft.
I’ll make a trade with you, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell: You put the draft back in April, and I’ll support a four-day draft. I actually don’t think a four-day draft is a terrible idea. I don’t love it, but digest how the draft breaks down now, using the 2014 draft as an example:
Day 1: 32 picks.
Day 2: 68 picks (including four compensatory picks).
Day 3: 156 picks (including 28 compensatory picks).
It’s misleading to say Day 3 is four rounds. It’s actually five, if you include the nearly full round of compensatories. Those 156 picks come in a cascade, with little time for interpretation. Moving it to a fourth day, logically, would make Day 3 cover rounds four and five, with the final day wrapping up rounds six and seven—but with something added at the end. How about this revamped schedule for April 23-26, 2015:
Day 1: 32 picks.
Day 2: 68 picks (including four compensatories).
Day 3: 76 picks (including 12 compensatories).
Day 4: 80 picks (including 16 compensatories) … plus a two-hour “Top Undrafted Free-Agents Show” to follow.
If 7.5 million people watch some portion of the NFL scouting combine, then some appreciable fraction of that will watch to see who has a shot to be the next Arian Foster or Kurt Warner. ESPN would drop off at the end of the seventh round, most likely, and the NFL could get ratings juice by putting two hours of Daniel Jeremiah and (if he still has a voice left) Mike Mayock on NFL Network, breaking down the first two hours of the annual post-draft land rush that sees teams sprinting to sign preferred undrafted players.
But the league has to come to its senses and help teams out here by realizing that holding the draft 19 weeks after the regular season—and just 11 weeks before the start of training camp—hurts teams’ chances to get rookies ready to play on day one of the regular season. This is not just a media or public issue (though the public is so sick of draft prep now, from what I get on Twitter from fans, that they could scream); it’s an issue of football preparedness. You don’t think two more weeks of being inside the playbook isn’t going to help Johnny Manziel be ready to start opening day, if that’s what his team prefers? It’s unfair to hamstring the 32 coaching staffs by not giving them their rookies in any sort of camp setting until the middle of May—for no good reason.
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If you watch one highlight this week, watch this.
The audio isn’t great on Peyton Manning singing “Folsom Prison Blues” at his Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital charity gala last week (the second stanza gets better), but the visual is tremendous—Manning in a business suit, complete with pocket square. Check it out here.
The best thing is to hear Manning, if you strain, singing one of Johnny Cash’s most memorable passages ever, with country singer Jake Owen by his side.
“When I was just a baby my mama told me, ‘Son,
always be a good boy, don’t ever play with guns.’
But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die …
When I hear that whistle blowing, I hang my head and cry.’’
Offseason karaoke. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Manning is due to appear on the “Late Show With David Letterman” tonight in New York. If there is a God, Letterman will ask Manning for a rerun. With better audio.
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Happy trails, Gary Smith.
In a pleasant way, the long-time long-form Sports Illustrated writer Gary Smith has always gone against the grain. No interest in social media, no interest in covering the biggest events … but an abiding interest in telling the best stories in sports. Not the most famous stories, or the stories involving the biggest names. But stories to be loved by the biggest fans and people who don’t care about sports at all. That’s his gift—to make everyone read stories about sports people voraciously. Smith, one of the best writers in any genre, said last week he was retiring from the magazine business. He’s going to write a book of fiction and see how he likes it.
I caught up with Smith as he drove from his home in South Carolina to a meditation retreat in Maryland. A few thoughts from a man I don’t know well but admire greatly, starting with meditation, drifting to his favorite stories, and what life holds for him:
“Meditation’s very interesting. I really enjoy it. I’ll get away for eight or nine days. During the day, you get totally silent. You meditate for seven or eight hours a day. Then you talk in the evening. I think I learn more in those eight or nine days than I would learn doing anything else for the same period of time.
“It’s so hard to pick stories, but I think I would have to start with ‘Damned Yankee.’ [The 1997 story is about John Malangone, a catcher of great promise for the Yankees whose career was ruined by the hidden secret that 5-year-old John accidentally killed his uncle with a javelin.] The stories that spilled out of John, the unbelievable psychic residue of carrying a loaded secret for most of his life, the suffering he went through. The potency of the material was overwhelming. We still talk today. Then I’d have to say the  story about Muhammad Ali and his entourage. That’s a story about a rocketship that stops on a dime, and how everyone close to Ali, in all walks of life, had to remake their lives. I loved that because it tells the story of what happens when the money train stops. Where does everyone go? What do they do? Then the  Andre Agassi story, about how hard he worked over the years to find himself. I never worked with someone who wanted to figure himself out alongside of me. At the beginning, he thought I was going to story on one facet of his life. Just one. I said, ‘No. I want the whole thing.’ ”
That led to this tremendous Smith passage, setting up the story:
“One Andre, two Andres, three Andres, four. Five Andres, six Andres, seven Andres, more. Has any athlete ever changed as much as Andre Agassi? Sure, you’d watched Tiger Woods change his swing, Michael Jordan change his sport. But who changes himself? Metamorphosis is the rarest achievement in sports. Why would a man bother to change when he’s got the American dream by the throat? Maybe it’s just too damn risky; what if it puts out the fire that forged his steel?”
I told him I loved his Pat Summitt story, because of the angle he told it from. He could have tailed Summitt for a few days and heard everything, but no, he found one of her Tennessee basketball recruits, Michelle Marciniak, who could tell the story even better—because of the overpowering effect Summitt had on her life, and on so many lives.
Smith: “Sometimes you have to move the camera to a different side of the room. After a few days, I began to focus on Michelle. Michelle in the cauldron. Imagine being a teenager and being thrown into this intense world. That turned out to be a much better way to tell the story.”
Smith’s advice to young writers: “I think you have to be on two tracks. One: Write a lot. Keep a journal. Practice your writing all the time. Two: Interviewing … I think it is so much about your own development as a person. Can you get virtual strangers to deliver intimate material? If you are going to write great stories, you have to be able to do that. So you have to read a lot. Read about different human beings. Read about different things. Travel a lot. Walk into any world, any place, any sociological environment, and get comfortable. That’s important.
“My decision … I got the sense I’d be more lit up creating something else, something new. I’m trying a novel. Who knows? I haven’t second-guessed my decision at all. I am incredibly grateful for all the wonderful things people have written about me. Some of the things … Joe Posnanski wrote something so beautiful … [The NBCSports.com columnist and former SI scribe wrote that Smith was “a wizard. His magic did not look easy. It did not even look possible.”] Do you have his email? Can you get it and text it to me? I have to thank him.”
So now Smith disappears into himself at the meditation retreat.
“After a few days of getting my ego over-inflated, it’ll be good to go somewhere and get a giant needle for that.”