In a slightly less crazy sports world, Sunday would be a wrap. The NFL Draft would be over. We’d be talking about the Chiefs drafting Brandin Cooks or Odell Beckham or someone else, wondering how the team will work the new talent in while following up last season’s 11 wins and heartbreaking playoff collapse and pretending we know what it all means.
This is how it would go in a sports world with a little less crazy, anyway.
The NFL Draft should’ve been this week, you know. Last year’s draft started on April 25 and ended on the 27th. That gave the NFL about 3 1/2 months from the end of the regular season to the draft, which made for a hectic-but-manageable race to what teams consider the second-most important day of the year behind the Super Bowl.
But we don’t live in that moderately crazy sports world, do we? We live in full-tilt, foot-on-the-gas crazy land, a place where the NFL wants to control every spare thought and (especially) dollar that sports fans have and, darned if the monster isn’t making bang-up progress. You don’t run a $10 billion industry on a stated journey toward $25 billion without turning up the crazy.
Know this, too: this is all gaining momentum. The NFL is only getting started. This is the part where you’re reminded that the 21st century NFL is a TV program above all else.
So instead of waking up Sunday and choosing whether you should be thrilled or furious with your favorite team’s draft, you wake up today with the soothing knowledge that you have an extra two weeks of mock drafts. Two more weeks of listening to what amounts to speculation about speculation from reporters and fans of varying degrees of knowledge dealing with an event that by definition is cloaked in secrecy and smokescreens and misdirections.
Which, of course, means two more weeks where the NFL Draft is the biggest national sports story we have — even as Major League Baseball is playing real games and the NBA and NHL are into their playoffs.
Officially, the NFL made the move because Radio City Music Hall was booked. Officially, this is only temporary. If you believe any of that, you’re adorable. Don’t ever change. This is about exposure, and a league that already feasts on the spare time and income of fans not wanting to back away from the buffet. Not even for a week or two in the spring.
There’s a good chance that Roger Goodell just lit a cigar with a $100 bill as he and a bunch of TV executives eat more lobster with 18-carat utensils they’ll probably throw in the trash.
Because, you should know this: virtuallynobody
in the NFL whose lives this change actually affects is in favor of it.
The other day, Alex Smith stood in front of a room full of reporters and talked about wanting to get back to work sooner rather than later. Executives — speaking privately, lest they upset The Machine — also dislike the longer break between season and draft.
Some of the reasons are professional, like the thought that more prep time rewards less organized and less efficient organizations. Some of the reasons are personal, like less time with family in an industry that already makes it difficult. Either way, most scouts and executives would prefer to move quicker. The joke in some football circles is that the only difference is two more weeks to talk themselves out of good decisions.
Agents and prospects don’t like it, either. Their training period is extended. This means more wear and tear on the prospects with more workouts and trips. The joke between some of them is that executives can miss on just as many picks in April as they can in May.
Eventually, though, the joke will be on the agents and prospects and executives, the ones whose lives (and livelihoods) are impacted by the NFL’s rules. Privately, many of them see the later draft as only the beginning. If the league finds a better TV spot for the draft in early May, who’s to say it won’t find an even better TV spot in late May? Or even June?
The wild success of the NFL Draft as a television property is giving some inside the league other ideas, too. One that was brought up in separate conversations with a prominent agent and league executive centers around free agency: gather the top 10 or 15 available stars in one place, all anticipating their signing, and turn the contract announcements into more TV programming.
If that sounds crazy, the same would’ve once been said about how wildly popular the draft has become. The NFL hasn’t made it this far without turning some crazy into profit.
Even now, we’re only seeing the beginning.