When the NFL announced that the 2014 draft would take place two weeks later than normal, commissioner Roger Goodell said that a scheduling conflict with Radio City Music Hall was the reason. A production of Hearts and Lights was supposed to run during the time the NFL wanted to use the facility for its annual prospect selection bonanza, though the show was eventually postponed due to production issues. Whether you believe Goodell or not, or whether you think the move to push the draft later into the spring is one more way for the league's industrial complex to come closer to year-round domination, one fact remains. When the draft concludes on Saturday, May 10, NFL teams and their new players will undoubtedly be negatively affected by the delay.
The league's current collective bargaining agreement, put in place in 2011, already limited the number of offseason activities for player participation. Adding a two-week pinch to that schedule means that draft prospects will have to hit the ground running at a higher speed when it comes to learning scheme, working with teammates and getting the hang of the NFL experience.
The supposed offset benefit -- that executives, coaches and scouts would have extra time to evaluate players -- doesn't seem to resonate. The Saints sent their front office and coaching staff to Las Vegas last weekend for a little rest and regeneration. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the feeling in the organization was ... the hay's in the barn, we've watched what we need to watch and why play the paralysis by analysis game?
Chiefs GM John Dorsey, who presumably spent last weekend a bit closer to home (though one never knows), spoke to this during last week's meeting with the media.
“In this scenario you have to not over-think it," he said. "You could over-think it in two weeks; once again I think that you have to be a little bit patient. It gives you a little extra time to do some leg work ... I think it gives you a little bit more time to relax and recharge, just sit back. Don’t over-think it is the easiest way to put it.”
As far as when his team was ready to pull the trigger on its picks? Dorsey insisted that the extra time didn't affect that schedule at all.
“In the spring," he said, when asked when the Chiefs were ready with all their information. "Every personnel guy loves the draft because you have a chance to help your organization and to build and add quality players to that, and that’s what it’s all about, trying to get your team to be better as you go along here. It doesn’t make a difference to me. Whatever the rules are, whatever the cards are that are dealt to you, you have to play by those rules and that’s what we’re doing.”
Texans GM Rick Smith recently said that the extra time was good, considering that he holds the first overall pick. That could be time to entertain more trade offers, or, consider possible family vacations. Giants GM Jerry Reese said that with his team's active involvement in free agency, the extra two weeks has been a benefit, but not necessarily in a life-changing fashion. Reese did go to a few more pro days.
And according to Dolphins first-year GM Dennis Hickey, that is one real advantage -- injured prospects have a little more time to prepare if they're left out of the postseason All-star weeks and scouting combine due to various medical issues.
“Yeah, especially with the injured player," he said last Friday. "I want players to be successful and get opportunities, so sometimes the health depending on their medical situation, maybe they aren’t able to work out prior to the draft, gives them a couple of extra weeks. There are pros and cons to it, but it is what we deal with and we control what we control.”
Seahawks GM John Schneider, whose offseason was pushed back by his team's Super Bowl win, sounded conflicted when asked whether a May draft week allowed him to catch up. Personally perhaps, but the team appeared to have everything on lock already.
"I personally felt like I was behind," he told the media last week. "Our staff wasn’t behind. Our scouts and everybody were on top of their game and ready. But I didn’t feel like I was totally caught up. That’s a great period right there of getting caught up. I’d rather do it this way.”
But has the time really helped?
“Not necessarily, no. We’ve organized our time in a different manner. We’ve scheduled things a little bit differently, but quite honestly it doesn’t feel like it’s going to get here fast enough. It’s been a long process.”
It's been a long process for draft prospects, as well. There's two more weeks for analysts, both amateur and professional, to comb over their personal and professional histories. Anecdotes and narratives are thus created and re-created, whether they have any basis in fact or not, to feed the beast's ever-increasing appetite.
Where the process becomes truncated -- and dangerously so -- is when those prospects are asked to show up (and show out) for their new teams. In 2013, Seattle's rookie minicamp started May 10. This year, it's a week later. And overall, there's two fewer weeks of time in the gym, in the meeting rooms, with position coaches. Two fewer weeks to learn enough to stick and stay. Top draft picks, expected to make major differences right away, have two fewer weeks to get in the swing of things. Quarterbacks at the top of the first round, meeting with their coaches and offensive coordinators and teammates for the first time, have two fewer weeks to get everything lined up. And with no sure-fire first-overall talents in this draft (or so we would have to believe), there's not likely to be any pre-draft intel moving from teams to players. Low draft picks and rookie free agents may be outside the bubble more than they have been in the past.
When the draft is over, everyone will have to start over cold. And the temperature will be just a bit lower, for want of a little more time to prepare.
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