NFL Draft needs to return to April
When it comes to the 2014 NFL Draft, the league should heed the immortal words of former New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott, “Can’t wait!” We can’t wait this long for the NFL’s annual Player Selection Meeting.
The draft, which finally will commence on Thursday with the first round, was pushed back two weeks this year. An essential facet of team-building and a hallowed part of the football calendar has been dragged out in the name of NFL excess. The league and commissioner Roger Goodell need to turn back the clock and put teams on the clock in April.
The official explanation for this year’s delay until May was that Radio City Music Hall, the host site for the NFL Draft, was not available for the usual late April date (last year’s draft started on April 25). The NFL got high-leg kicked out by a new spring show featuring the famous Rockettes. That production, “Hearts and Lights,” was cancelled in March.
The unofficial explanation is that the league wanted to experiment with the idea of putting the crown jewel of its offseason calendar in May to extend its sphere of influence over the American sports landscape.
Confession: I’m one of those people who breathlessly waits for the NFL Draft and will pore over mock drafts and purchase NFL Draft magazines and books. I can mark the passage of time by the subtle changes in Mel Kiper Jr.’s unctuous mane. The draft is a banner event on my sports calendar.
The league knows there are many people who feel this way about the draft, and it probably thought a two-week delay would only heighten the hype, build the buzz, and enhance the suspense. It has had the opposite effect. It’s created an NFL dead zone. Instead of whetting the appetite for the draft, the additional lead time has been like noshing on sawdust.
How many times can you debate whether Johnny Manziel’s unorthodox, swashbuckling playing style will translate to the NFL or parse Jadeveon Clowney’s effort? The draft dissection overkill has become a buzz kill.
The whole thing feels like a football filibuster, as the emergency brake got pulled on the offseason.
There has been a smattering of notable moves, such as the Patriots agreeing to terms with veteran pass rusher Will Smith on Monday, but most veterans are prone to waiting until after the draft to pick their destination.
It is the kiss of death to sign with a team only to see that team spend a high-round pick on a player at your position.
The paradox of the NFL’s decision to push the draft back to May is that most of the changes that have been made to the draft format since 2008 have been designed to expedite the proceedings.
A lot of fans remember when most of the wait time involved with the draft was attached to the first round, which became an interminable exercise in player picking and team promotion.
In 2007, the draft started at noon on Saturday, which featured the first three rounds. Rounds 4-7 were on Sunday. The first round alone clocked in at 6 hours and 8 minutes, the longest in league history and approaching a Red Sox-Yankees game.
In 2008, the NFL shortened the time teams had between picks in the first round (from 15 minutes to 10 ) and second round (seven minutes, down from 10) and moved the start time to 3 p.m. Only the first two rounds of the draft were on Saturday and the final five rounds were on Sunday.
In 2010, the NFL Draft went primetime and expanded to three days. The league made the first round a made-for-television event, moving it to Thursday night with a 7:30 p.m. start. The second and third rounds were switched to Friday evening and rounds 4-7 were on Saturday.
In 2011, the first round start time was changed to its current 8 p.m. time slot.
None of this matters to the selectors. The teams could have held this draft in early April at a Starbucks. Teams have been evaluating and tracking these players for a year. They meet with them at scouting showcases like the Senior Bowl. They talk to them at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. There are pro days, individual workouts, and team visits.
There are family members who don’t know as much about the prospects as NFL teams do.
The teams don’t need more time to scout the players. They need more time with the players they end up drafting and signing as rookie free agents. One of the casualties of this year’s later draft is the loss of the rookie minicamp, a time of teaching and indoctrination.
The overmining of the draft for exposure could get worse. Goodell has floated the idea of expanding the draft to four days.
According to an NFL.com report, the four-day format would have each of the first three rounds getting its own day and rounds 4-7 taking place on the fourth day.
If the league can’t expand the schedule to 18 games, it’s just going to expand the draft instead.
Why stop at four days? Why not a seven-day draft-a-palooza?
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has accused the NFL of gluttony, postulating that eventually fans will decide there is such a thing as NFL overload.
That might be wishful thinking by Cuban, but the NFL is acting like a self-absorbed selfie sharer who thinks even the mundane activities it is engaged in should be of utmost interest to the masses.
If Radio City Music Hall would rather have “Hearts and Lights” instead of “Hats and Hopefuls” on its stage in late April, there are other venues that would be happy to house the draft.
Goodell told the NFL Network on Monday that the mayors of Chicago and Los Angeles have expressed interest in hosting the 2015 draft.
Just tell them they need to reserve dates in April.