NEW YORK – NFL commissioner Roger Goodell can stand alone. He’ll be just fine if he’s not putting his arm around a player and saying cheese during the first round of the NFL draft.
That would be the case even if the no-shows are Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, the possible first two picks of this year’s draft, who’ve said they aren’t planning to come to Chicago.
“Listen, I respect when we’ve had players in the past say, ‘I want to be with my family,’ ” Goodell said during the Associated Press Sports Editors meetings this past week. “It’s an important day.
“If I recall [Cleveland Browns offensive tackle] Joe Thomas called [in 2007] and said, ‘I’d really like to go out fishing.’ That’s an important moment. If that’s what they want to do, we understand.”
The bottom line is Goodell doesn’t envision anything putting a damper on Chicago’s draft despite the absences of the two marquee players and the surprises Mother Nature might have coming this week.
It undoubtedly helps that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city have met all the requirements set forth by the most powerful sports league in the country
In Chicago, the NFL can increase the exposure of the draft, which already is a TV-ratings bonanza after months of endless, over-the-top buildup. Goodell seems almost giddy.
“This year is particularly special because we’re going to a new venue for the first time in 51 years, going back to Chicago, which was the last venue, prior to New York,” Goodell said. “The excitement is building around the draft event in the Chicago area.”
The exposure might be “a wonderful promotional opportunity for Chicago,” as Emanuel said recently, especially with every skyline view shared by ESPN and NFL Network. But the creation of Draft Town in Grant Park will be a new standard for all drafts, whether in New York, Chicago or elsewhere, moving forward.
Goodell reiterated that the expectation is that more than 100,000 fans will attend the league’s free events.
“This is the first time we’ve had that element,” Goodell said. “That was sort of our vision of how do we make this event so that more fans can enjoy it.
“We’ve re-invented the event … with what we think are exciting goals that people of Chicago worked with us on and we worked on, and we might re-invent it again.”
And that could be in Chicago.
It might take more to keep the draft, but Emanuel wants that to happen. And while he’s not committing to anything at the moment, Goodell remains open to a return. He said he wants to see how things turn out this week but effusive in his praise.
“Chicago has over-delivered,” Goodell said. “We say Chi-town is ‘Draft Town.’ They have done an extraordinary job led by mayor. The mayor, in his passionate enthusiasm for this, was a big reason why we chose to go to Chicago. He really wanted this event and he was committed to supporting it and building something that would make it a really special event for the people of Chicago.”
This is something the Bears wanted, too.
Bears chairman George McCaskey said last month that he’s not sure if his team’s brand will benefit, but thinks the city can.
“My challenge to Chicago would be to make it as difficult as possible for the league to move it out of Chicago after this year,” McCaskey said.