The phrase is especially pertinent this month due to the confirmation that the 2020 draft will be “fully virtual”. And while circumstances surrounding the coronavirus pandemic have dictated this decision, this is a forward-thinking league always prepared to lead in innovation, so it comes as no surprise.
Commissioner Roger Goodell announced plans to ensure a completely level playing field amid the coronavirus pandemic with club personnel forbidden from using team facilities. This will therefore deprive each team’s ultimate decision-maker, the general manager, from the comfort of a ‘war room’, which is usually stuffed on draft days with a host of experts and advisors to ease lingering doubts throughout the notoriously tricky process.
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“We have reviewed this matter in the past few days with both the competition committee and CEC [a group of league executives],” Goodell wrote, “and this will confirm that clubs will conduct their draft operations remotely, with club personnel separately located in their homes.”
“All clubs will not have access to their facilities, which is contrary to the fundamental equity principle that all clubs operate in a consistent and fair way.”
Unlike most administrative processes in elite sport, many football fans will be familiar with this unprecedented move. It will loosely resemble what fantasy football players go through each year. Fans are therefore likely to relish the opportunity to watch the real thing unfold with general managers isolated at their own homes. They, too, will likely squirm under the pressure as the clock ticks, hoping that their research and numerous simulated drafts will prepare them no matter how the consensus order inevitably collapses.
It is true that a lot of discussions and trades usually transpire over the phone during the draft anyway, but quite how those rushed three or four-way conference calls will unfold without other key personnel in close proximity remains to be seen. The coronavirus has also ensured information about each prospect this year is at a premium. The inability to work players out separately or set up meetings in person has obscured the picture of their future and heightened the risk involved in an already notoriously difficult process.
Do Cowboys fans trust Jerry Jones quite as much this year? And will Texans fans watch from behind the sofa given Bill O’Brien has already frustrated many with his offseason moves for the Texans.
Teams will already be scrambling to roll out crash courses in technology for their veteran executives to ensure their draft process remains smooth.
While it will prove fascinating to see what strategy generally works best this year: will it prove to be an opportunity for aggressive teams looking to win now? Because those who are more conservative teams or building from a shallower base may somewhat back out of this year’s draft and look to trade away their picks for future opportunities when there are less variables.
The landscape after 25 April will also demand attention, still months away from the regular season, despite the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. Those unfortunate enough to not be able to prove their health or enhance their stock after injury-hit seasons in college are more likely to join an enormous pool of undrafted talent. Players of a certain level carrying doubts at this time of year would previously have been snagged in the later rounds, but this time they might be forced into biding their time until they are eventually permitted to visit teams once restrictions are lifted.
All of which promises more drama than usual and ensures while sport mostly freezes throughout this pandemic around the world, intrigue in the NFL during the offseason has never been higher.