Secrets of an NFL Draft War Room

tre wellsCorrespondent IApril 21, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 26:  National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell skakes hands with first overall pick Jake Long during the 2008 NFL Draft on April 26, 2008 at Radio City Music Hall in April 26, 2008 in New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Today, we stand days away from the 2009 NFL Draft. By now, the decision makers of each team have, for the most part, stopped looking at free agents, and are concentrating solely on preparation for the day that is the equivalent to Christmas for NFL fans.

But before you get your popcorn ready, clear your seat on the couch, and start dodging the barrage of “honey-dos” that are sure to be thrown your way during the two-day spectacle, here are some things you may not have known to go on in the war room of your favorite NFL team.

What Are They Waiting On? 

I have spent several first days of the draft each year screaming at the TV—and ultimately the empty podium—wondering why it is taking the first team any time at all to make their pick. The team holding the No. 1 pick in the draft has theoretically been on the clock for months.

Even though they are legally given the full compliment of time (it is 10 minutes for each pick of the first round instead of 15), what could they possibly be discussing now that they couldn’t have been discussing an hour ago, or a week ago?

Well, it turns out it’s not always that they are discussing trades or what player they should actually take with the pick. In 2001, the day before the draft, the Atlanta Falcons, who held the No. 1 overall pick, received a call from ESPN asking if they could wait a few minutes before announcing their pick so that ESPN could roll through its entire opening.

The Falcons agreed.

As Dan Reeves waited for more than five minutes into his pick, he began to get nervous. A call to the head-man in charge resulted in a request to wait a few more minutes. Finally, the ESPN promo ended, the cameras turned to the podium, and the Atlanta Falcons selected Michael Vick with the first overall pick.

The Atlanta Falcons Director of Communications at the time, Aaron Salkin, said it was “nerve wracking. It was pretty close. “

Do You Have an Invitation To Be Here? 

I always pictured an NFL war room like a super think tank of football minds. Dozens of scouts would lock themselves in a room with the owner, GM, and several coaches to look over charts and player grades to ultimately vote on which player they want.

But now, it seems many teams would rather not have their scouting personnel in the room with them. According to NFL.com, some team’s scouts sit in a separate room, only to be summoned if there is a question about an athlete from that scouts region. The scout is then sent back to their satellite room after the questions are answered.

To some, scouts are deemed beneficial inside the war room. To others, including Bill Polian President of the Indianapolis Colts, it becomes too chaotic. The Colts war room consists of four people: the owner, the coach, Polian, and the Director of Football Operations. No scouts, just four people.

"The decisions have been made," Polian said. "You need to streamline things. I've worked that way (with a full room) three times in my life. It was bad all three times. It's distracting to me."

ESPN.com states that some teams, including the Miami Dolphins, have a seating chart. Seats are assigned in an order of rank. Only those with an assigned seat get access to the room. 

A Jump on Free Agency 

Many people think that the recruitment of post-draft free agents begin as soon as the draft ends, with a whirlwind of “first come-first serve” signing sprees. However, the negotiations with the potential free agents actually start around the fifth round.

Scouts will make calls to an athlete, typically insinuating the team is interested in drafting them. They begin negotiations of sorts by trying to sell the player that there is a roster spot available to fight for.

But if the money is more important to the player than the opportunity, an agent might hold out for multiple offers after the completion of the draft. Some signing bonuses for undrafted players can be in excess of $20,000.

No Experience Necessary

Contrary to popular belief and conventional wisdom, you don’t actually have to have played football to be drafted. The Dallas Cowboys have drafted two people over the years that never played a down of football. Carl Lewis, in 1984, and Bob Hayes, in 1964, were both drafted because of their amazing speed. While Hayes actually tried his hand at the sport, Lewis passed on the opportunity to continue his Olympic career.

Best of the Best

One last thing to know about the draft is just how rare it is to be drafted. According to the National College Athletic Association, one million high school students participate in football each year. Of those million, only one in 17 will ever play college football.

Of those who actually play college football, only one in 50 will be drafted. Add that up, and that means only nine of every 10,000 (.09 percent) high school players will eventually be drafted.

No matter what happens during the upcoming draft, there is likely to be more drama happening behind the scenes than a movie on Lifetime.

So get your chores done early, make the little lady breakfast for some goodwill, and sit back and watch your favorite team either make your day or break your heart.