The Super Bowl is here. The NFL has masterfully navigated a global pandemic to deliver a full season.
There have been challenges along the way. It feels like a lifetime ago since the initial outbreak in Tennessee, followed by the issues in Baltimore.
At the time there was plenty of talk about cancelling the season or needing extra bye weeks. Reaching the playoffs and seeing them pass through uneventfully felt like a total long shot — yet that is what happened.
So it’s surprising that given the league did such a good job getting football on for 2020 — that they’re doing such a confusing job regarding the NFL draft.
They’ve cancelled the combine. For some reason they’re quite capable of creating protocols for 32 teams and thousands of individuals to co-operate for a football season — yet the challenge of creating a comparatively tiny bubble for a few hundred people over the course of a week is a step too far.
Thus, the NFL has washed its hands of creating a safe, managed environment where full testing and medicals can be delivered — only to push the problem onto the college teams.
Now schools are scrambling to create pro-days. In some circumstances, such as on the west coast, teams are considering putting on pro-days in different states.
How safe are these pro-days going to be, compared to a carefully managed environment at Lucas Oil Field? Why force teams and players to potentially travel all around the country for pro-days, when the combine is one venue over one week?
And while the likes of Alabama and Ohio State will be just fine — what are the smaller schools going to do? How will they manage?
Jim Nagy and his Senior Bowl crew have just completed a week in Mobile where thousands of people were tested — with only one positive result:
Grateful to announce there was only one positive Covid test out of 3,635 administered tests during 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl week. All players and NFL team personnel submitted a negative test within 48 hours of arrival and were tested every day in Mobile. 🙏 pic.twitter.com/XCdeM3kwiV
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) January 30, 2021
The Senior Bowl was a major success story. It was an example of what can be achieved through planning and preparation.
Yet we’re led to believe the NFL couldn’t put on a similar event in Indianapolis with the same level of testing and precaution.
Instead, the buck is passed to the college teams. Travel away, scouts. Go and get the information you need at several different locations instead of one.
What exactly is the plan here? How is this approach safer than a micro-managed combine?
Is it a money thing?
Is it aesthetics?
Wouldn’t it take one press release to break down why a combine would be safer than a series of more-important-than-ever pro-days?
And what are the consequences for the players? Are they now under pressure to attend a pro-day, regardless of the circumstances? Are they going to see their prospects hampered by an inability to test on a level playing field?
Surely the sensible thing to do is to delay the draft until the summer? Allow for the vaccine to be administered across the country and hopefully see cases fall. Perhaps even work to get players vaccinated in advance of the event?
That way the teams get a full run at the draft process. They can get the information they require to make educated decisions.
The players will have a true and proper opportunity to impress.
The league can have a serious draft instead of a shot in the dark.
It won’t happen because it seems like the NFL likes the little window it has in April when the eyes of the world focus on a fantastic event that captures the imagination of so many fans and dominates the headlines.
These are unique times though — and some adjustment is necessary.
The NFL deserves praise for the way it has provided a full 2020 season.
But the next big challenge is already here. What on earth is going on with the salary cap, with many teams in dire straits ahead of the new league year? And how do you intend to put on a draft when testing and medical checks are going to be harder than ever — with schools around the country under immense pressure to put on pro-days?
A small delay could make a big difference.
The alternative is to simply host a carefully managed combine with strict protocols. Sadly, it appears that ship has sailed.
The best thing the NFL could do is pick up the phone, call Jim Nagy and seek advice on how to put on a successful event in the current climate.
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