There's a notion that from a marketing standpoint, the NFL can do no wrong. It's true. The world's most lucrative sports league has possessed a Midas-like touch, turning everything in its orbit to gold. But as it continues to make adjustments in order to fatten a George Costanza-sized wallet, the NFL also risks alienating fans, players and even league and team employees.
Doing so doesn't take much. Sometimes, it's a simple tweak of the offseason schedule. For instance, the league's decision to extend this year's pre-draft process by delaying the annual event two weeks has ruffled some feathers.
ProFootballTalk.com informally polled over 16,000 readers, all of whom are presumably draft fans. As of Friday, 96.4 percent of that group preferred the draft take place in its regular spot on the calendar—the final weekend of April.
A palpable fatigue has emerged regarding the draft. We sense it, and we (or at least I) currently have it.
While the league reportedly would like to space out the three major offseason tent poles (Scouting Combine, free agency, and draft) to March, April, and May, respectively, moving the draft to May while leaving the other two in place has created the worst thing any media-driven industry can have: A lull.
No one likes the lull. Also, agents don’t like the fact that teams have more times to ask players to engage in private workouts. Teams don’t like having more time to evaluate and obsess and think and re-think.
As one G.M. said via text on Wednesday night, “Remind me again why the draft is not tomorrow? Is it so we can see another two weeks of mock drafts?”
We’ve yet to hear from anyone who likes the two-week delay, and the extended vacuum that it creates in the offseason.
And last month at the Buffalo Bills' pre-draft luncheon, Bills general manager Doug Whaley was critical of the two-week addition to the pre-draft schedule.
For us, we actually took a week off over Easter. We wanted to get away, clear our brains. I’m sure you guys are tired of writing about this, we’re tired of thinking about it. So we said, instead of sitting here banging our heads against the wall, let’s go and refresh ourselves, and get ready to attack these last two weeks. So for our schedule, all we did was push our draft meetings back two weeks. Is it something that’s more or less beneficial? I’d have to say less, because we do our work in the fall and spring. We were ready to go yesterday. So it doesn’t help us. And I’m a firm believer in the saying 'study long, study wrong.' I like to go with my gut, and usually with a gut instinct with all scouts, is usually the best, the most accurate.
"I'm getting to the point of just wanting it to be over with," wrote one fan on Reddit last week, "instead of actually looking forward to it."
"My number one gripe, is that the 'who will x team draft talk' has been beat to death at this point and will only continue because the talking heads have nothing else to talk about," wrote another.
That's a minor inconvenience for fans, but agents and scouts typically take time off in May. That won't be as easy this year. Team employees are also forced to work a couple weeks later. Sure, in theory, a lot of those folks can shift vacation time to before the draft, but that's not exactly a realistic expectation in such a competitive industry.
"I think any time guys work diligently like they do year-round as scouts and you can get two weeks off, that's utopia," draft expert Gil Brandt told Bleacher Report. "And so, from that standpoint, I think that they're in a state of flux. But scouts understand the job, and they're very good at adjusting."
And don't forget that under the old schedule, rookies would already have their hands on new playbooks. They'd have taken the field with their new teammates. They'd have met their coaches. The way things are this year, they're still a week away from the beginning of that process. That puts many of them further behind the eight ball.
"The other thing is it gives you two less weeks with your rookies," said Brandt. "That gives you two less weeks for that player to study that semblance of a playbook, to get into the weight program and so forth. That, to me, doesn't work real good for a young kid."
This from Sports Illustrated's Peter King last year:
The upshot will likely be the elimination of rookie minicamps for many teams. In this age of more and more rookies playing opening day, that's like taking away Spanish 101 and moving right into the second year of it; catch up if you can, rookie. The league will be cutting the number of weeks between the draft and the opening weekend of the season from 19 to 16. It's another way to sacrifice quality to keep the NFL on the front pages longer.
New York Giants cornerback Walter Thurmond, who was a fourth-round pick in a regularly scheduled draft back in 2010, told Bleacher Report that he can see the delay placing undue stress on prospects.
"You're just so anxious to see what team you're going to, or whether you're going to get drafted at all," said Thurmond. "I think that anticipation is pretty crucial, and having it extend into May makes that whole process longer. All you see on the sports networks is the draft and where guys are going, here and there, and it's like a roller coaster of emotions for the players."
Brandt, who works behind the scenes with the league on draft logistics, echoed that sentiment.
"I just gives people more time to spend working kids out. But if we don't know what we want to know by now, I think it's not fair to keep kids working out, flying around the country," Brandt said. "I just wish we would go back to the regular date."
Officially, this year's change came due to a scheduling conflict at Radio City Music Hall. But the Rockettes production that caused that conflict wound up being postponed itself, leaving a void in the league's regular spot.
And in a session with Associated Press sports editors last month, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made it clear that more factors were at play than just scheduling chemistry with Radio City. Based on Goodell's comments, it's evident the NFL is considering maintaining a similar schedule in future offseasons:
On the positive, one of the things that was brought to me by Troy Vincent—and was a very important point—is that it’s two weeks longer that the players are in school and finishing and completing their degrees. That’s a positive thing. We like to see the players do that before they are drafted. It hasn’t really affected the calendar dramatically.
From a football standpoint it’s moved everything back a little bit. The teams will be moving quickly into offseason camps. From our standpoint, it’s another two weeks that people are talking about the Draft. It wasn’t designed that way. It was designed purely because we had a conflict at Radio City.
We are looking at how we continue to make the Draft bigger and better. More successful and more popular. That includes maybe staying in Radio City or maybe taking the Draft on the road and looking at other changes that we think could be pretty exciting for the Draft. The changes that we’ve made have been calculated and I think have had a positive impact. Going to prime time, shortening the time of certain rounds has made it more attractive. So we will continue to evaluate that and try to find ways to do that.
When Bleacher Report checked with NFL spokesman Greg Aiello Thursday, he stated that the league had yet to make any plans regarding future drafts. But with fans, agents, scouts and prospects all affected by this shift, there's a lot of speculation regarding what direction they'll go next.
The NFLPA will have a say in that process, according to Players' Association spokesman George Atallah, but the union isn't technically required to sign off on this type of delay because it falls within a draft window that was negotiated as part of the collective bargaining agreement.
"I think the NFL moved it for the conflict [at Radio City Music Hall] but also to see what impact it would have on the business and on the news cycle," Atallah told Bleacher Report. "We're still gathering information regarding what's worked and what hasn't."
Once that information has been gathered, the league, the union and anyone else with skin in the game will meet to discuss next year's schedule, but there's no timetable for a decision, according to both Aiello and Atallah.
"I'd say that we've heard the bad, which is it's too much time, it extends the workouts, it extends the news cycle, let's just get to it," said Atallah. "I've certainly heard that side of it. But again I've heard the flip side. The positive feedback has been that it gives players a little more time to prepare. For the marketable players, it generates a little more conversation and buzz for them. So I've heard both positive and negative things."
That buzz could be the key for the NFL, but it does cause you to think about that inflammatory statement Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban made back in March, when he compared the NFL to a fat hog on the verge of slaughter.
In the NFL's quest to dominate the North American sports realm, has it gone overboard? Could a simple adjustment to the draft schedule become the straw that breaks this camel's back? It isn't likely, but if you'll excuse the combined metaphors, the haystack is getting heavier, and so is the pig.
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