Rookies pay price for postponed draft
That is the overwhelming sentiment I've received from executives and coaches around the National Football League regarding the timing of this year's draft. They hate having an additional two weeks leading up to the draft. Hate. It.
The league loves it, of course. By pushing the draft back two weeks, the NFL assumed control of 14 more days of the sports calendar. At a time when all of the talk should be focused on the compelling Game 7s in the NBA and NHL playoffs, the Kentucky Derby and the Los Angeles Lakers' coaching search, the draft is dominating the discourse. Only Donald Sterling was powerful -- and ignorant -- enough to temporarily change that.
The draft has always been overhyped anyway. Fifty percent of first-round picks turn out to be busts. It is impossible to adequately or accurately judge a team's draft class until three years have passed and the players have actually played.
But it is the biggest event of the NFL offseason, which isn't really an offseason anymore anyway. As someone in the league said, now it's just the time when there are no games.
If the NFL cared about the players who are about to enter it, the league would go back to the old way of doing business and have the draft in April. The reason it gave for moving the draft in the first place was a scheduling conflict with Radio City Music Hall that ultimately did not pan out. It was ridiculous in the first place that the NFL allegedly capitulated to the venue and moved one of its signature events as a result, as if there were nowhere else in New York City that could handle hosting the draft.
That story never made much sense. The NFL could have had the event at any number of places. It could have set up shop at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan or moved across the bridge into Brooklyn at the Barclays Center. If those options weren't viable, the league could have held the draft at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, where it held Super Bowl media day just a few months ago.
No, the NFL moved the date because it wanted to move the date. But in doing so, it created collateral damage that adversely affects the very commodity that the draft is supposed to be all about: the rookie players.
Not only have the draft prospects had to endure two additional weeks of scrutiny but they've missed valuable time at work for their new employers. Had the draft occurred as typically scheduled, they could have joined in, albeit a little late, Phase I of the offseason program, where players can work out at their respective team's facility.
Any time inside a team's building is valuable. It has never been more valuable than now because the rules of the collective bargaining agreement have restricted the time coaches can actually teach.
It used to be that teams had a minicamp that was specifically for the rookies. That was intentional. That is when the real teaching occurred. That is what the offseason practices, organized team activities and minicamps are all about. Teaching.
Training camp is all about getting the starters prepared for the season. Once the season starts, the focus shifts to game preparation and making sure the first-team guys are ready. The stress level on coaches is higher then. Most are sleep-deprived. The unfortunate ones are fearful for their jobs.
The real teaching occurs in April, May and June. The players who need and benefit from the teaching the most are the ones that know the least: the rookies.
At even more of a disadvantage are the rookies who will be relied upon to be Day 1 starters and contribute. The players who will be selected in the first round of this year's draft will, for the most part, be players teams project can help right away, such as Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack, to name two.
They will be behind the proverbial eight ball from the jump. It is hard enough on rookies. They are young men, in many cases, adjusting to newfound fame, newfound wealth and newfound expectations while moving from a collegiate atmosphere into a job. As soon as their name is called on whatever day they are drafted, they matriculate into the workforce and become professionals. Some are equipped to handle the responsibility. Some aren't.
Either way, the NFL has made their journey harder by decreasing the amount of time they have to adjust.
That is just one reason coaches and executives dislike having the draft in May. Another is it limits the amount of time they get to work with the individuals. And another is it limits the amount of time they get to focus on and prepare their team.
And yet another is it limits the amount of time they get to spend with their families. These are human beings we're talking about, after all.
Yet another bad idea the league is considering is stretching the draft to a fourth day. It isn't bad enough to tinker with the date of the draft. Now the league reportedly wants to prolong it.
Why? To control more of the sporting calendar. That's it. It isn't about improving the product on the field. It is about taking over. In that, the league is succeeding, but at what price?