2011 NFL Draft: Why Doesn't the League Move to an Auction Format?

Caleb GarlingCorrespondent IApril 26, 2011

Here is my problem with the draft: too much time is spent waiting for our team to pick again. We can go get groceries, respond to emails, clean the bathroom, whatever. The other picks are fun, but we're not killing ourselves if we miss an out-of-division pick.

We had this same problem in our fantasy football league. You'd make your pick and then go make a sandwich or fold your laundry. Yet last season when we switched to an auction draft, everything changed; every manager had a shot at every player. 

Why doesn’t the NFL do the same?

Since fantasy is “slightly” different than real life (hear my sarcasm), there are a lot of ways this could be done. Here is how I’d propose: (Offer tweaks in the Comments.)

1)   In reverse order of the previous year’s standings, teams take turns putting any college player onto the bidding block.

2)   Every team has five minutes to submit an offer that includes: 1) years, 2) guaranteed money and 3) incentives. Teams are not required to bid.

3)   Offers are revealed.

4)   Player selects his top three offers.

5)   Top three suitors have five minutes, should they so choose, to improve their offers.

6)   Player selects the team with which he will start his career in the NFL.

Let me tackle the obvious objections to such a system first:

To ask a team to put together a contract in five minutes is ludicrous!

Sure, but GM’s wouldn’t be putting it together on the spot; they just had six months to pour over who they want and gauge their value to the franchise. Most of these bidsand the aggressiveness with which they’d pursue a playerwill have been decided days and weeks prior.

Fine then, making a kid decide in five minutes is ludicrous!

Yeah, but do you think teams won’t be in contact beforehand? And they’re not deciding alone either. They, their parents and their agents will certainly be prepped on what teams (under what conditions) will take a serious run at their services. To the public it will be a surprise, but the players will largely know who their top three or four teams will be before the draft. (And if a player is surprised by an offer, why is that necessarily a bad thing? Football, the NFL, is entertainment. Let it entertain us.)

Yeah, but trading draft picks is fun!

Disagree (relative to what teams could be trading). Sure, if you’re a Pats fan you are loving the taunts you can direct to Raider fans; but to me, teams losing draft picks as trading chips is an okay casualty of the auction system.

Without picks to trade, wouldn’t teams start trading…(wait for it)… players more often? Doesn’t knowing who exactly you’re getting backnot a draft pick in three yearsseem far more interesting?

But this is the way we've always done it!!

Quiet down, crotchety old man on the front porch who shakes his fist at the young folk.


Now that we have those out of the way, let’s focus on the good parts. 

Your team has a shot at every player.

To me, the argument really stops here.

In an auction format every team has a chance to land any player. Now Jacksonville, Miami, Seattle or even Chicago are in the equation for Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert. Perhaps half the league is making gestures to bid seriously for Marcell Dareus and Von Miller. Any time we have more competition for players, isn’t that a good thing?

If you’re a Panthers fan you may say, “Yeah, but we were terrible last year; we should have the rights to building blocks first?” That logic only makes sense if there wasn’t a salary cap. Each team is allowed to spend the same amount each year. You want Cam Newton? Make room for him.


We need to stop rewarding bad football.

There is nothing worse than knowing your team is coasting (tanking?) because they want a high draft pick. The problem is not as prevalent in football, granted, but doesn’t it suck to rationalize late-season losses with, “Well, we get a higher draft pick.” Isn’t that like rationalizing a painful hangover with, “I’ll feel better tomorrow?"

Who cares? It sucks now. (And maybe that hangover will persist.)

NFL Rookies have a say in their fate.

I am not overly concerned about the moral argument that “people should have the right to determine where they are paid obscene money to play a game the rest of us enjoy for free in our backyards.” But the point is worth mentioning: rookies have no say where they start their professional careers. They aren’t the coal miners of the 1800’s, but they deserve some choice.

High draft picks (and their agents) cannot put teams over the barrel for obscene contracts.

Any movement to extract power from guys like Drew Rosenhaus and Tom Condon sounds good to me. The final three offers a player receives during the auction draft are what he can choose from to start his NFL career. Sure, he can choose the fourth option: not take any of the contracts and go back to college (and no team is negatively affected by losing a pick). But otherwise: no negotiating and no pulling a John Elway/Eli Manning. The team that lands your servicesor the price they’re willing to pay and you’re willing to acceptis the one that gets you.

The draft becomes an actual game.

Imagine the mind games teams would play.

Maybe Carolina puts Colin Kaepernick up for bid first—talk about a mindfreak. Had the Panthers been stringing everyone along this entire time and the guy with the weird release is their future quarterback? Or are they coaxing another team into taking Kaepernick so there is one less competitor when Newton is put up for bid?

Or say, Patrick Peterson goes on the board and the 49ers put up a good-not-great offer. This could mean so many things.


1) The 49ers are taking a shot in the dark, hoping to land the stud cornerback on a low-ball bid because they secretly know how much he loves California.

2) They are faking interest in cornerbacks so other teams will bid higher on the remaining cornerback talent to ensure they land someone.

3) (And follow here) They are faking a mediocre interest in cornerbacks so their great-but-not-fantastic offer has a chance when Prince Amukamara, Aaron Williams and Brandon Harris come up for bid, because other teams then reduce their own bids because they think the 49ers don't have a strong interest in the position and thus the market isn't as competitive.

Or something in between.

We couldn’t miss a single selection because our team is always in the hunt for a top prospectif a need and cap space existand even if our team isn’t (truly) interested in a player, they can still affect the rest of the draft by manipulating the bid market.

Sounds good to me.

Yet of course, at this point, and within the foreseeable future of the NFL, an auction draft is only fun to think aboutin other words: still just a fantasy.


Want games to play during the draft?

NFL Draft Games: Keeping the Spaces Between Your Team's Picks Fun

NFL Draft Games, Part II: The Ball 'n' Chain Game

NFL Draft Day Games, Part III: The Twitter Game

[Caleb is a Featured Columnist and also writes for Wired.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/calebgarling]


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