Let the Games Begin: The NFL Front Office Lying Season Is Just Getting Started

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Let the Games Begin: The NFL Front Office Lying Season Is Just Getting Started
Michael Conroy/AP Images

For years I have said to people in the media during draft season that the first thing I have to do when the draft is over is go to confession.

When they ask why, I tell them because "of all the lies I've told."

From the time the combine ends until draft day there is far more misinformation than truth spread throughout the league. I can't tell you how many times people have said to me that a certain coach or general manager has told them that their team is really interested in a certain player. 

In almost all cases that information proves to be false.

The other day when I was looking at the headlines on Pro Football Talk I saw one headline that read "Raiders Currently Prefer Carr to Manziel". When I saw that I just laughed, because there is no way the Raiders are going to tell anyone whom they really like. It is not good for business. In case you forgot, the NFL is a very competitive league, and the last thing you want your competition to know is what you are thinking.

GM's and coaches go out of their way to lie to people in the media or their "friends" with other clubs about how they feel about draft prospects. Clubs will also do things to throw the media off as far as what their real intentions are.

Let me explain.

 

Pre-Draft Visits

Every year each club is allowed to bring in 30 players for updated medicals and interviews. The other clubs in the league know which players are visiting each team.

What I used to do when scheduling visits was to change whom I brought in every year so there was never a pattern as to which player was going to visit. One year, we brought in players whom we were thinking of targeting in the first three rounds. The next year I brought in some people we had already eliminated and players we wanted to "recruit" for post-draft free agency. The following year I brought in a combination of the two.

By doing this there is no way the media or other teams could gauge how we were approaching a given draft.

One year, we had pretty much made up our minds on the player we wanted in the first round by January. In February, I made a visit to the school this player was attending to talk to the player and his coaches.

In an attempt to not let anyone link that player to us, we didn't interview the player at that year's combine, nor did we send a coach to work him out at his pro day. When we brought in other players at the same position for a pre-draft visit we let the local media know who those players were.

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

In the last two weeks leading up to the draft many in the media felt that it was a lock we were going to take a high-profile player we brought in for a visit. On draft day that year, a team behind us traded up to get in front of us before selecting the same player linked to us by media analysts. We just quietly smiled as a different player—the one we had for months actually wanted—was still there when we made the pick.

Last year there was a very similar scenario. Buffalo had a huge need for a quarterback. Everyone in the league tied Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib to the Bills because of his association with Buffalo's new head coach Doug Marrone, the quarterback's head coach at Syracuse the previous year.

Buffalo did nothing to dispel that thought by praising Nassib every chance they got. In perhaps the biggest surprise of the first round last year, Buffalo selected Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel. Nassib went in the fourth round to the New York Giants.

 

Pro Day Workouts

Alex Brandon/Associated Press/Associated Press
JaMarcus Russell was known for having one of the best pro days of all time.

Another example of what clubs do to throw off the rest of the league is make fusses over certain players at their pro day.

When a team is going to take this approach, they have to be consistent.

For example, if their biggest need is at defensive end, then they have to go to all the top defensive end workouts. When they attend these workouts, they don't send one person, they send a delegation. The group may include the head coach, the coordinator, the position coach and the general manager. They may take the player in question out to eat the night before and spend an inordinate amount of time with each one. By being consistent, no one really knows the player you like the most.

Another thing a club may do is not attend the pro day and instead schedule a private workout. If you are going to do this, then again you have to do the same with multiple players. A private workout with just one player can be very telling.

 

Spread Rumors

John Bazemore/Associated Press/Associated Press
Rumors are already swirling around Johnny Manziel.

Clubs have been known in the past to "leak" false information.

Club "A" may like a certain player but to create a negative spin on the player it may have a coach or scout discretely say something negative about the prospect to people on other staffs. Those people will of course report that "information" to their superiors in the hopes, for Club "A" that is, that the rumor will spread.

What do they say? Something like this: "I really like this guy, but our doctors say he has a bad knee and we can't touch him." Or, "we have a problem with his ability to learn the scheme."

Clubs have until about a week before the draft to bring in prospects for a medical examination. The last week before the draft is a bit of a quiet period.

A few years ago, one club I know of liked a player but knew he needed a minor surgery before he could be cleared to play. That information was not widely known around the league. To make the odds better that they could in fact draft this player they leaked the information to a national network that the player needed surgery.

The day they "leaked" the information was the day after any other club could bring the player in. On draft day that player "dropped" more than a round and the club that leaked the information was still able to draft him.

 

Interviews with the media

When ESPN started televising the draft on the early 1980s, former Sports Illustrated writer Paul Zimmerman was always one of the analysts with Mel Kiper and Chris Berman.

Zimmerman had a very good relationship with many coaches and GMs in the NFL. Numerous times during the draft, Zimmerman would say that such and such team was going to take a certain player. He said the coach or GM had told him such in the days leading up to the draft.

Almost 100 percent of the time the team did not select the player Zimmerman thought they would and he would look totally baffled. What Zimmerman came to find out was football people don't trust anyone when it comes to the draft, especially the media. They can't afford that the information they give will be told to someone else. It's too important.

When talking to other coaches or scouts in the days leading up to the draft, decision-makers feel the same way. They can't show any of the cards in their hand.

I learned this my first year in scouting when I was a part time scout with Buffalo. A few days before the 1982 draft, Buffalo head coach Chuck Knox was having a friendly conversation with fellow coach and good friend Dick Vermeil, who was the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. 

Vermeil, not knowing that Buffalo wanted to take a receiver, told Knox that he really wanted to draft Clemson receiver Perry Tuttle. Buffalo's pick was right before Philadelphia's. When Buffalo was on the clock they selected Tuttle. In shock, Philadelphia took North Carolina State receiver Mike Quick. Looking back, Philly had the last laugh as Tuttle had a very average career for the Bills while Quick became one of the Eagles' all-time great receiver.

 

What it Means for 2014 

Over the next two months there will be plenty of reporting on the draft. We will hear that the "stock" of player A has gone up or down. We will read that certain teams are "in love" with a certain player or they think they are too far back in the order to draft player B. 

With the draft being pushed back three weeks this year, there is more time to lie and spread rumors. As you are reading or listening to pre-draft updates or projections or the latest rumor, just remember that what is being said may not be true at all. It's nothing more than what teams want you to believe.

We will find out the real truth on May 8.

Greg Gabriel has over 30 years experience as an NFL scout.  All observations are firsthand.

 

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