Back? The NFL wants to push the NFL draft back?!? The draft process isn't long enough as it is?
The NFL is in the process of moving the draft from the last weekend in April to the middle of May, which would also push back the NFL Scouting Combine from the end of February to, potentially, later in March. Via NFL.com:
NFL.com's Albert Breer reported Monday that the NFL and NFL Players Association are working toward a deal to move the 2014 NFL Draft to May. It likely would start as a one-year trial before deciding if the May move makes sense. NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported that the likely target start date for the 2014 draft is May 15.
Pushing the draft back to May is something Breer reported weeks ago. But it's probably happening in 2014 because of a scheduling snafu. The Radio City Rockettes show "The Spring Spectacular" is scheduled to be held at Radio City Music Hall in late April, when the draft usually is held.
Please. Commissioner Roger Goodell has joked the league is being bumped by the Easter Bunny, but the NFL has far more clout than it is giving itself credit for. The league moved the draft from Madison Square Garden a few years ago. They could easily find another venue if Radio City Music Hall was unwilling or unable to move its spring spectacular.
The league has also indicated that moving the draft away from actual Easter weekend is a reason for the change, but that doesn't make much sense considering the NFL draft is now a three-day event that starts on Thursday night and ends on Saturday afternoon. Easter Sunday is a non-factor. Unless the draft will be expanding to yet another day and this is its way of telling us.
The real question: why not move the draft up, not back?
NFL's Real Motive
It's been long rumored that the NFL would like a marquee event in every month of the year, and moving the draft back enables the league to make steps to achieve that ridiculous goal of taking over the entire sports calendar, despite playing meaningful games in fewer than half the weeks of the year.
Not only has the NFL benefited from the popularity of the NFL draft as a television production, the buildup to the draft has become a cottage industry for those who cover the league (full disclosure: this site included.)
The longer the league can string out the NFL draft process, the more the sport will stay in the media spotlight during the otherwise football dormant time of year. Everybody wins! Well, the NFL wins.
The league is stressing that nothing is definite.
Just because the NFL draft may move to May, that doesn't mean draftniks will start focusing on the draft any later, which means more work and more talk and more guessing and more sideways rumors about teams taking a quarterback first overall and simultaneously trading out of the pick altogether.
More time before the draft just means more lies, more innuendo and more NFL-sanctioned parlor games.
And more and more mock drafts in those additional three weeks. Does anyone really need more mock drafts?
The draft should move up, not back. If the NFL combine is in late February and free agency begins in early March, why can't the NFL draft be in late March or very early April? (Side note: imagine how much fun the NFL draft would be on April Fool's Day.)
Traditionally there are two months between the NFL combine and the draft, which seems like a rather unnecessary amount of time given that NFL teams have scouts around every college campus the entire year.
The NBA has its draft almost immediately after the NBA Finals. The MLS SuperDraft is a month after the MLS Cup. MLB and NHL have their drafts during the season (though to be fair both of those leagues draft for the future, unlike the other American league drafts). Why does the NFL need two months between the end of the season and the draft?
Real Benefits of a March Draft
What the league should do and what the league will do are, essentially, the exact opposites. The league could easily shorten the offseason by having the combine and draft one month apart instead of two. By doing that, the league would put more importance on players participating at the combine by giving players less opportunity to hold their own pro day workouts over the six weeks after the combine takes place. There could still be time for workouts, but that calendar would be truncated.
Holding the draft at the end of March or very beginning of April would then allow teams to draft for need and fill in whatever they didn't get in the draft with the remaining viable free agents, while giving teams more time to sign high-priced draftees to rookie contracts that could aid in signing additional free agents or re-signing potential holdouts far earlier in the league's offseason.
Everybody wins. We get fewer mock drafts, far less unnecessary pre-draft conjecture and the league gets to get on with the next year with a total complement of players nearly a full month earlier than they have in the past.
Instead, in an effort to maximize the buzz around the offseason, the NFL is going to push the draft back, making it harder for undrafted free agents and unsigned players to hook on with a team before the mandatory camps begin.
If the NFL is trying to win the offseason, this is the way to do it. If it is trying to make the calendar more palatable for teams, players and fans, this seems to be moving the process in the wrong direction.