The calendar has turned to May, and in the normal rhythm of an NFL year, the draft would be squarely in the sport’s rearview mirror. Even the post-draft analysis would be mostly exhausted by now, and teams, rookies and fans alike would have had a couple weeks to process what happened and what it all might mean for the upcoming season.
Not so this year, with the league having pushed back the NFL draft to early May. The 2014 version begins Thursday night in New York and runs through Saturday, and not everyone is waiting patiently.
“I think it’s pretty annoying,” agent Blake Baratz said. “They rush into the [East-West] Shrine Game. They rush into the Senior Bowl. They rush into the pro days. They rush into everything else. Why is this different? The kids that play in a BCS bowl game and then turn around five days later [to begin practices] for the Shrine Game. It’s not fair.”
Indeed, the new timetable for the draft is receiving mixed reviews.
“I think as an organization, most of the organizations in the NFL, I don’t think, wanted the draft moved back,” Washington Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen said last week at linebacker Brian Orakpo’s charity golf tournament. “But when you have a new head coach and can have that extra [pre-draft] minicamp, I think [it’s] very valuable for us. . . . I don’t know if it’s gonna change our draft board at all. But it’ll be a good, eye-opening experience for everyone.”
But not everyone is complaining, and teams are dealing with the extra preparation time in different ways. According to a report by ESPN, New Orleans Saints officials planned to break the monotony by spending this past weekend in Las Vegas before returning to work Monday. New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick ran a half-marathon April 26 in Nashville.
“I think it’s really how you utilize it,” Nick Caserio, the Patriots’ director of player personnel, said at his team’s pre-draft news conference last week. “I would say we’re not really doing anything differently. Has it given us a few more weeks? Maybe. But I would say just generally speaking, it really hasn’t had much of an impact. Maybe it gave Bill a chance to run the half-marathon over the weekend, which maybe he didn’t mind. Whenever the draft is, whenever they tell us it is, then we’ll be ready to go for it.”
Baratz, the agent, said teams haven’t needed the extra preparation time from what he has observed.
“Everything was done by April 25, and it’s still done by April 25 now,” Baratz said by telephone last week. “There’s just more waiting around. There’s more time for teams to do homework, I guess. But I don’t know if it’ll help. It’s a lot of going over the same stuff. It would make more sense if there was a little more of a break after the college season. . . . Teams are calling and asking questions. It’s the same things I’ve been telling them for months.
“I had a GM call me the other day and ask me about a kid, and I said, ‘I told you that at the combine.’ It’s so long ago, they forget. [But] it doesn’t really bother me. It’s more a nuisance than anything else.”
The NFL says this year’s draft was moved back because of a scheduling conflict for Radio City Music Hall, where the event is held. But the league has raised the possibility of a revamped future offseason calendar in which the NFL scouting combine would be pushed back to March, free agency delayed to April and the draft held in May — giving the sport a major event in each of those months.
“It was due to the conflict with Radio City,” Greg Aiello, the NFL’s senior vice president of communications, said of this year’s draft dates. “No decisions have been made about next year. It has given us an opportunity to evaluate an early May draft.”
Players did not seem eager when the possibility of a reworked offseason calendar first was mentioned to allow the onset of free agency to be pushed back.
“Certainly for this year we had extensive conversations with the NFL about the offseason schedule,” said George Atallah, the assistant executive director of external affairs for the NFL Players Association. “The draft seems to be the only thing that moved, along with the rookie premiere, within the allowances of the CBA. I believe any other changes would have to be negotiated. It’s hard to make a judgment call on one year or one event. We’ve had feedback, both positive and negative, from the player community. We’re yet to have further conversations with the NFL about next year.”
The NFL previously switched the draft from a two-day, weekend-only event to a three-day affair beginning in prime time on a Thursday night. The league is leaving open the possibility of further changes, including perhaps moving the venue for the draft to other cities.
“It hasn’t really affected the calendar dramatically,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said at a gathering of sports editors last month. “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.”
So those in the sport must wait to see what happens with future drafts and, in the meantime, live with the new timetable on an at least temporary basis. Baratz said it’s not a major adjustment for one group — the players about to be drafted.
“It’s two more weeks of answering questions and waiting,” Baratz said. “But these college kids, they don’t know anything different. They don’t have a basis for comparison. You just hope they don’t read too much of all the analysis that’s out there, because it doesn’t mean anything, anyway.”
Staff writer Mike Jones contributed to this report.