It was pretty funny, all things considered. The Rockettes, the NFL said, were the reason the league’s annual draft was moving from late April to May 8. As if Roger Goodell, the most powerful man in all of sports, would let a dance troupe stand in the way of cherished tradition.
Truth is, the league cherishes its traditional late April draft date no more than it cherishes extra revenue, and pushing the draft back keeps the NFL relevant and the money flowing during a time when America would otherwise be focused on the NBA and NHL playoffs.
A May draft amplifies viewership for the league’s media outlets and partners who cover the draft with a longer run-up. And now we have an idea of what the league has up its sleeve: Bart Hubbuch of the New York Post reported on May 7 that seven cities—New Orleans, Boston, Philadelphia, Orlando, Chicago, Los Angeles and Canton, Ohio—have applied to host the 2015 draft. And Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel cited three league sources on the same day who say the draft could move even further back next year, a week or more.
As if the reaction to this new May 8 date wasn’t bad enough.
“Its borderline torture,” Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said last week.
“Most of the organizations in the NFL, I don’t think, wanted the draft moved back,” said Redskins GM Bruce Allen.
And the reaction among player agents is even harsher.
“By pushing the draft back, the message is, the league doesn’t care about its people. They care about the almighty dollar,” says Mike McCartney of Priority Sports.
Why does everyone but the league office hate the delayed draft? Let us count the ways.
Here’s the most obvious consequence: With the draft currently being held the week rookie minicamps would have begun, first-year players don’t have the same amount of time to prepare for training camp.
“It takes away an opportunity for the rookies,” said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. “There is no reason to bring those guys in next week, and then overwork them the next weekend. So we are going to skip that step in the process here.”
It’s an especially disappointing consequence considering recent steps taken to make sure rookies have every opportunity to succeed. Three years ago the new collective bargaining agreement simplified rookie wages and shortened contract talks, leaving little wiggle room for agents to negotiate. Owners and veteran players wanted it done, and the byproduct—rookies showing up to summer workouts rather than holding out—was celebrated as a win. Even Goodell, in his pre-2011 rallying of owners and players to adopt a rookie wage scale, decried rampant holdouts that kept players off the field. Emboldened by the commissioner, Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver spoke out at the conclusion of first-round pick Derrick Harvey’s 33-day holdout in 2008. “This was a good example,” Weaver said, “of the problem commissioner Goodell has cited with the lack of a rookie pay scale.”
Why then, would the NFL and Goodell delay the arrival of every single rookie by two or more weeks in a completely avoidable way?
“That’s the biggest problem,” says agent Steve Caric of Caric Sports Management. “These guys should have playbooks in hand already.”
For high picks who will be called on immediately, it means less time to prepare. For late-round picks and undrafted free agents, it means fewer opportunities to impress while coaches are focused on development in the early summer. And it’s not just rookies who are stunted. Veteran free-agent signees, too, aren’t getting the instruction they’d normally get during OTAs, because their coaches are still in draft prep.
“It delays development on all levels,” says agent Michael Perrett of SportsTrust Advisors. “Coaches are still being pulled into draft meetings when they could be, and want to be, coaching up the veterans in the offseason program. I haven’t found many fans of it.”
Financial and emotional burden on players
While some agents worry about their players’ on-field chances, others worry about what they’re getting into off the field. A May draft means two more weeks of living on borrowed money. In the week leading up to the draft, the visits are over and the scouting is largely done, leaving ample window to buy more of what they can’t yet afford.
“I’ve heard about guys—not mine—taking out more money in these last two weeks,” Caric says, “buying gifts for mom, throwing big draft parties, taking trips. Financial advisors will get you a line of credit, but they don’t look at the interest rate.”
All of it contributes to a cycle of debt that has swallowed up the majority of the NFL in its modern age. In 2009 Sports Illustrated found that within two years of retirement, 78% of former NFL players are either under financial stress or have gone bankrupt.
Additionally, two more weeks of pre-draft talk means two more weeks of media speculation and leaked reports. “Information that shouldn’t be leaked getting leaked—drug tests, Wonderlic scores, injury information,” McCartney says. “Two more weeks of kids’ names being dragged through the mud.
“They should move the draft up, not back. I know the NFL doesn’t care, but the mental anguish is ridiculous.”
Schedule burden on teams, personnel
The anxiety flows in all directions.
Consider NFL coaches, easily the most-stressed demographic in North American sports. Pushing the draft back cuts into the vacation time of men who routinely sleep in their offices in the fall and winter, two of whom endured major health scares last season. Broncos coach John Fox required open-heart surgery in November, the same month that former Texans coach Gary Kubiak suffered a mini-stroke on the field.
The Saints staff, apparently satisfied with their draft board, took off last weekend for a relaxing Vegas vacation. Other teams aren’t so content; Grigson had his Colts staff refining the back of their draft board this week.
That can be good, and bad.
“The detriment,” says Dan Hatman, a former NFL scout and co-founder of Dynamic Sport Solutions, “is giving decision-makers more time to deconstruct their process and reweigh traits in a manner that is self-destructive.”
Hatman’s scouting colleagues take an unexpected hit, too. Scouting contracts typically run through May, and many are notified the Monday after the draft if their contract isn’t being renewed. Instead of having a month to find new jobs, they’ll have less than two weeks.
But a scout’s livelihood, a coach’s health or a rookie’s development doesn’t pay the bills quite like the NFL Network and ESPN’s hyped predictions do. In this case, it’s not about the team personnel or even the players. As one agent texted, “It’s about $$$$$$$$”