Roger Goodell, in very on-brand fashion, distributed an NFL-wide memo Thursday to teams saying the April 23-25 draft will go on as planned while also warning that anyone who dares criticize the plan publicly “serves no useful purpose and is grounds for disciplinary action.”
This is hardly surprising for a league that, so far, has been proceeding with barely any meaningful acknowledgement that we’re in the midst of a global health pandemic — though, to be fair, a league that is in its offseason does need to be ready for the resumption of more regular activities, whenever they might occur.
With the NFL it’s often the approach, not the end result, that makes you hold your nose.
The draft will be significantly changed in style — it won’t be a glamorous affair in Las Vegas, nor will players or families be present on-site — but not really substance. There will still be 255 picks, and those players will be distributed to 32 teams. A lot of the scouting work has already been done, and the NFL Combine happened before the shutdown.
What comes after the draft, however, could be quite different from normal years — and could be detrimental to rookies and teams like the Vikings who might be leaning heavily on young players in 2020.
The Vikings have 12 total picks — including five picks in the first three rounds (two firsts, a second and two thirds). They presumably will be using those premium choices to restock positions of need, including cornerback and offensive line.
The NFL recently ordered team facilities to be shut down for at least two weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic. A realist would concluded that facilities will be shut down well beyond just those two weeks as teams — like the rest of us, and perhaps even more so given how close together athletes work — exercise an abundance of caution.
While nobody can accurately predict how the next few months will play out with this pandemic — and certainly there are a million questions more important than how it impacts football — let’s say NFL teams feel confident they can re-open facilities in mid-June.
That would be about six weeks later than the usual rookie mini-camp window (slated for May 1-4 or May 8-11 this year). It would be close to a month after OTAs usually start. Veterans would be able to catch up pretty easily. But young players learning new systems, plays and techniques would be significantly behind.
It wouldn’t be as extreme in this scenario as the 2011 lockout — which didn’t end until late July, and during which teams couldn’t sign free agents nor could coaches communicate with players — but one of the major narratives coming out of that work stoppage was the impact on young players (including Vikings rookie QB Christian Ponder).
None of this is a reason to postpone the draft — even if that was reportedly the recommendation of general managers. It will be useful for teams to know their rosters ahead of time for whenever activities presumably return to something resembling normal.
But it does make you wonder what the impact will be on NFL teams — particularly one like the Vikings, with so many picks and a high likelihood of needing to rely on those picks immediately — even if the regular season manages to start on time.