INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s hardly business as usual across the NFL landscape – with a few notable exceptions, that is – but it appears the league isn’t budging on one of its foundational offseason functions.
The April 23-25 draft, which already has undergone a major adjustment, is retaining its spot on the league’s calendar.
The NFL currently is resisting a recommendation from a subcommittee comprised of general managers to postpone the draft because of the coronavirus pandemic. The seven-member group believes the draft should be moved back because of restrictions that greatly limit the ability of teams to properly vet draft-eligible players (on-site visits, medical follow-ups, additional psychological testing, etc.).
ESPN’s Adam Schefter was the first to report the development.
New Orleans Saints GM Mickey Loomis, a member of the subcommittee, expressed the concerns of his peers during an appearance on “The Peter King Podcast.’’
“I’d be personally in favor of delaying the draft, so that we can get some of the work done that our scouts and our personnel people ordinarily do,’’ he said. “And then just from the logistics of trying to conduct the draft, with not having access to your draft rooms and your offices, creates a lot of logistic problems.
“This is not a fantasy draft that you conduct out there with just a list of things on a piece of paper. There’s a lot work that goes into it to prepare, and there’s a lot of work that is done during the draft. Listen, it’ll be very, very difficult to conduct that and do it in a way that you’re doing justice to the process.’’
As is the case with everything under the grip of and reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic, the decision to hold the draft April 23-25 is subject to change.
However, until the NFL decides otherwise, the Colts and every team are moving forward expecting the draft go off as planned.
The draft already has encountered one major adjustment. The league canceled the high-profile April 23-25 draft festivities in Las Vegas. Last year’s event in Nashville, Tenn., drew an estimated three-day crowd of 600,000.
The league has attempted to balance a “business as usual’’ approach with addressing the COVID-19 issue.
It began its new league year March 13, which included the start of veteran free-agency and player movement. The major caveat with the latter was teams were not allowed to bring in players for visits before signing them to oft-times massive contracts.
The Colts signed quarterback Philip Rivers to a one-year, $25 million contract and re-signed one of their own – left tackle Anthony Castonzo – to a two-year, $33 million extension. They also acquired defensive tackle DeForest Buckner in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers. Chris Ballard sent the 49ers the 13th overall pick in the draft and gave Buckner a four-year extension that pays him an average of $21 million per year on the extension.
Tuesday, the NFL sent a memo to teams mandating uniform workplace and operational restrictions. They reflected restrictions already put in place by local and state government agencies, and were implemented to ensure all teams operate “on a level playing field.’’
Foremost among the directives that go into effect Wednesday at 6 p.m.: all team facilities were to remain closed to all employees, with a few exceptions that deal with medical, security and operational issues.
The memo, according to ESPN and NFL.com, said teams still are allowed to conduct “all normal business operations, including signing players, evaluating draft-eligible prospects, selling tickets and other activities to prepare for the 2020 season.’’ But that work has to be conducted away from the facility.
The Colts essentially instituted those guidelines March 13. That’s when they suspended travel for coaches and scouts who were evaluating players for the draft “until further notice,’’ and restricted access to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center to “essential personnel only.’’
The team also has postponed its popular April 30 Town Hall.
Also, the NFL canceled its March 29-April 1 owners meetings in Palm Beach, Fla.
In Tuesday’s memo, commissioner Roger Goodell explained the latest action was to “ensure that all clubs operate on a level playing field, and that the NFL continues to conduct itself in a responsible way at this time, it is appropriate to outline certain principles that will apply during the current period. These principles have been reviewed with and endorsed by the Competition Committee and will remain in effect until further notice.’’
The shutdown will remain in place until April 8, at which time the NFL will reassess the situation.
By that time it’s fair to assume the league will either lock in the draft for April 23-25, or push it back.
If the decision is to find a more appropriate date, it’s anyone’s guess how much deeper into the calendar the NFL would be willing to go. Imagine the complicated logistics of 32 teams arranging 30 on-site visits – or even fewer – with draft-eligible players.
The NFL already has indefinitely postponed the start of teams’ offseason workout programs. Players routinely report in mid-April.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.