For a theme song for this year’s NFL draft, may we suggest the chorus from a 1981 song by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
“The waaaai-ting is the hardest part.”
In previous years, since switching to a three-day draft in 2010, the draft would have been held this past Thursday through Saturday. Undrafted free agents would sign with teams on Sunday, and the new rookie class would arrive en masse on Monday, ready to pick up their new playbooks and meet their new teammates and coaches.
Instead, we still have 11 days of mock drafts, smoke screens, and nonsensical debates to trudge through. This year’s draft was pushed back two weeks, to May 8-10, because of a scheduling conflict with Radio City Music Hall.
Though last week’s release of the regular-season schedule provided a nice morsel for NFL fans, the six weeks of downtime between the March owners’ meetings and May’s draft is proving to be tedious not only for fans but also for the teams, players, and agents who are eager to get this thing going already.
“I think if you asked 32 teams, about 30 of them would say, ‘Let’s go back to the old way,’ ” said Gil Brandt, the former Cowboys executive who now helps organize the combine and the draft.
The Easter-related event at Radio City was canceled in March, but an NFL spokesman said “it would have taken a Johnny Manziel scramble to change the date” of the draft back to late April. Teams had scheduled their pre-draft season in accordance to the May 8-10 draft, plus vendors and other pre-draft events were locked into that time frame.
Speculation has been rampant that the switch to early May will become permanent. The spokesman said the NFL has not committed to a date for next year’s draft, but the league will continue to tinker with the draft. While it traditionally holds the event in New York City — at Radio City since 2006 — it will consider moving it to other cities in the future. The league will also consider spreading the event over four days instead of the current three.
Commissioner Roger Goodell said Thursday in a meeting with sports editors that the decision to push the draft back this year “purely because we had a conflict at Radio City,” but it’s easy to see where the future of the draft is headed.
“From our standpoint, it’s another two weeks that people are talking about the draft,” Goodell said. “When we are thinking about these things, we don’t like to put a lot of restrictions on them . . . We don’t take too many things off the table until we see it’s something we don’t want to do.”
The later date isn’t all bad. One front office executive and one special teams coach separately told the Globe that the extra time has been invaluable for scouting players that will be taken in the later rounds or signed as undrafted free agents. And it gives the seven new head coaches and three new general managers a little more time to get acclimated with the draft prospects and their own scouting departments.
Brandt said that several teams, including the Texans, gave their scouts time off last week before reconvening in the coming days to finalize the draft board. And for most prospects, the extra two weeks hasn’t been much of an inconvenience. They have to budget their allowance from their agents for two extra weeks, and have to deal with increasing anxiety over knowing their draft fate, but the draft season hasn’t changed too drastically for hundreds of prospects.
“It’s kind of like moving your birthday back two extra weeks,” said one agent who had five players at February’s combine. “You just want it to be here and get your present already.”
While the draft was pushed back two weeks, the rest of the offseason schedule has remained mostly the same, forcing many teams, including the Patriots, to cancel the rookie minicamp that is traditionally held the weekend after the draft and serves as an orientation to the way teams practice and conduct their business. While this could make it more difficult for some prospects to get acclimated to the NFL way of life, it could also be easier for the prospects that are forced to miss the minicamp, anyway. NFL rules prohibit players from practicing with their teams until they have completed their finals, and for schools such as Northwestern and Stanford, that doesn’t happen until June.
Teams can still only host 30 players at their facilities for official visits, with that window closing on Sunday. But the extra time has allowed teams to host more workouts and be more willing to bring certain players in for visits, and some players are starting to get worn down by the process.
Brandt noted that Pittsburgh quarterback Tom Savage has visited 22 teams and Indiana receiver Cody Latimer has visited 17.
And the later draft date gives prospects two more weeks to affect their stock, for better or for worse. Last week, Mississippi State offensive tackle Charles Siddoway, a two-year starter and potential late-round draft pick, was arrested and charged with burglary and robbery.
And Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby, a potential first-round pick and one of 30 players attending the draft, was issued a citation last Sunday for operating a vehicle while impaired.
“It’s two more weeks that anything could happen — good, bad or indifferent,” the agent said.
Under deal, rookies have taken quite a hit
With several first-round picks from 2011 having the fifth-year options on their rookie contracts exercised in recent weeks — including Patriots left tackle Nate Solder — it helps crystallize the effect the new collective bargaining agreement had on reducing rookie pay.
Let’s look at a few examples, comparing players drafted in 2011 with those taken in 2010, the last year before the new CBA:
■ Solder, the 17th overall pick, will make $7.438 million in 2015, making his rookie contract a five-year deal worth $15.98 million. In 2010, 49ers guard Mike Iupati got five years and $18.25 million as the 17th overall pick.
■ The loss is more dramatic at the top of the draft. Cam Newton, the No. 1 pick in 2011, will get $36.691 million over five years after the Panthers exercised his option. Sam Bradford, the No. 1 pick in 2010, already has realized $51 million in the first four years of his deal, and assuming the Rams don’t cut or restructure his contract, he will realize $65 million over five years and $78 million over six years. If the Panthers franchise tag Newton for 2016, his rookie contract will essentially be six years for around $52 million.
■ Aldon Smith, the seventh pick in 2011, will make $24.138 million over five years if the 49ers exercise his option (they have until Saturday). Joe Haden, the seventh pick in 2010, already has realized more than $43 million over four years and is set to make $50 million over five.
■ And the players hurt most by the new setup are the “busts.” If the Titans don’t exercise the fifth-year option on quarterback Jake Locker, who was the eighth overall pick — his salary would be $14.666 million for 2015 if they do — he will become a free agent after making $12.586 million over four years. Meanwhile, linebacker Rolando McClain, the eighth pick in 2010, still got $23 million guaranteed despite lasting just three seasons with the Raiders.
Several observers in and around the game, including this reporter, have been critical of the job the NFL Players Association did in negotiating the CBA in 2011. Former NFLPA president Domonique Foxworth, now a graduate student at Harvard Business School, said, “I’m extremely satisfied with how it turned out” but doesn’t mind the criticism.
“The deal is not perfect,” he said. “I’m more than welcome to any criticism of it. Apt criticism is useful. It could lead us to a better place. I appreciate bringing ideas to the table.”
Some dates to circle on your calendars
Some observations and thoughts on the regular-season schedule, which was released Wednesday night:
■ The NFL lined up some great prime-time games in the first weekend of the season. The Thursday night kickoff game will be Packers at Seahawks, the Sunday night game will feature Peyton Manning playing his old Colts team (although we wish the game were in Indianapolis and not Denver), the Monday night game features two classic teams in the Lions and Giants, and we get a bonus Monday night game with two intriguing teams, the Cardinals and Chargers.
■ This year will mark the first time since the 1970 merger that no AFC team will play on Thanksgiving: Bears-Lions, Eagles-Cowboys, and Seahawks-49ers. The Lions were supposed to host an AFC team — the Bills or Dolphins — but the NFL broke with tradition by scheduling the Bears instead. The game between two NFC teams will still be aired on CBS due to a new cross-flexing rule that allows the NFL to move games across Fox and CBS to ensure the best games will get the larger audiences.
■ ESPN will televise its first playoff game when it gets a wild-card game from NBC, which will pick up a Divisional Round game instead. Credit commissioner Roger Goodell with keeping his TV partners happy — all four (Fox, CBS, NBC, and ESPN) will televise one wild-card game for the first time.
■ Breakfast at Wembley? The Week 8 overseas matchup between the Falcons and Lions will kick off at 1:30 p.m. London time, or 9:30 a.m. East Coast time. We’re all for London expansion if it means regular 9:30 a.m. games.
■ All 16 games in Week 17 are division games.
■ Super Bowl rematch: Broncos at Seahawks in Week 3.
■ Oakland’s first three road games (in four weeks): at New York, at New England, at London.
■ The Bills have 13 games that kick off at 1 p.m. Eastern, two 4 p.m. West Coast games, and one Thursday night game at Miami. The 49ers will only play one game in the Eastern time zone (at Giants).
■ In October and November, the Bengals have three straight home games (Ravens, Jaguars, Browns) followed by three straight road games (Saints, Texans, Buccaneers).
■ The Chiefs, last year’s surprise team, could struggle out of the gate with a tough schedule: vs. Titans, at Broncos, at Dolphins, vs. Patriots (Monday), at 49ers.
■ The Bears and Cowboys are playing back-to-back Thursdays, on Thanksgiving and the following week. The Cowboys will also rack up the frequent flier miles this year: road games at Seattle and London.
■ Early byes (Week 4): Cardinals, Bengals, Browns, Broncos, Seahawks, Rams.
■ Late byes (Week 12): Steelers, Panthers.
Signing off in Seattle
Best of luck to Scot McCloughan, who surprisingly resigned from the Seahawks’ front office last week for family reasons. McCloughan, No. 2 behind GM John Schneider, was a sharp talent evaluator for the Seahawks since 2010 and helped draft several key pieces to their Super Bowl team — Richard Sherman, Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, Russell Okung, and others. He previously served as the 49ers’ GM from 2005-09 and drafted Vernon Davis, Frank Gore, Patrick Willis, Dashon Goldson, and others. McCloughan also left that job in 2010 for family reasons.
Time away from the game
The NFL also said goodbye to two longtime referees on Friday — Ron Winter and Scott Green, who retired. Winter, an NFL official since 1995, is most known for not throwing a flag for pass interference on a field goal attempt at the end of the 49ers-Giants playoff game in 2002. Green, an official since 1991, also worked that game, as well as two Patriots’ Super Bowls. Green also was the lead negotiator for the NFL Referees Association during the referee lockout in 2012.
Expanding playoffs on agenda
Commissioner Roger Goodell said at the sports editors’ meeting that expanding the playoffs for the 2014 season will be discussed at the May owners’ meetings, but if a plan is not ratified, the playoffs will remain in its current 12-team form for this season. And while the NFL took a step this year in creating a New York City command center to assist on-field referees with instant replay, Giants owner John Mara said on the team website that the full-on NHL model is likely coming soon. “I think we’re moving toward a system where replays are going to be conducted by the command center in New York,” Mara said. “I don’t think we’re there yet, but I see us moving in that direction.”
Running back will be a position of need for the Patriots in the draft, as Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, and Brandon Bolden are all entering contract years. We’re told by two sources that Michael Lombardi, the Patriots’ new front office executive with an amorphous title, was down at Coastal Carolina’s campus on Friday working out running back Lorenzo Taliaferro, who has the big size the Patriots covet (6 feet 2 inches, 230 pounds), and rushed for 1,729 yards and 27 touchdowns last year. And in Nashville, Bill Belichick, in town to run in Saturday’s Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon, personally worked out Vanderbilt center Wesley Johnson on Friday, according to The Tennessean.
Keeping it classy?
Sherman apologized during the Super Bowl for his verbal attack of Michael Crabtree after the NFC Championship Game, but it doesn’t seem like he was all that sincere. Talking about the moment last week while speaking at Harvard, and expressing dismay that people judged him harshly off that moment, Sherman asked rhetorically, “What is class in sports? What exactly is it?” We’re pretty sure it’s not: “Well, I’m the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree that’s the result you’re going to get. Don’t you ever talk about me! Don’t you open your mouth about the best, or I’m gonna shut it for you real quick!”