As you might have heard, there’s a virus going around. Its power is such that it has chased NFL general managers, coaches and scouts from their draft “war rooms.’’ This is no small feat. A survivalist’s bunker has the invulnerability of a hammock compared with the impregnable caves in which teams carry out their annual selection of college football players.
The coronavirus knows no favorites. The draft, which begins Thursday, will be a scattered, remote affair, with teams’ decision-makers sheltering at home like the rest of us, only with better equipment, more adrenaline and the usual total belief in their decisions. It means that the war room, the inner sanctum, the holy of holies, now will be at the mercy of a WiFi connection.
This could be very entertaining.
It’s a wonderful thing when NFL coaches and GMs are pushed outside of their comfort zones. Somebody else is in charge, and it must kill them. That the person might be an IT geek who can’t curl 15 pounds is too much to bear.
An ESPN camera could be trained on a furious general manager right after a Day 1 trade falls through because his computer screen is imitating a flickering campfire. That possibility makes life worth living.
NFL people adore routine, the way the second hand on a clock does. They all sleep five hours a night and dream about a cornerback’s “hip mobility.’’ They all keep diaries, where they declare their undying love for a quarterback. Every draft, they sit shoulder to shoulder with their colleagues and labor to make their picks. Every draft but this one.
The possibility that they are not in control, that technology could betray them this week, has them thinking it’s a conspiracy begun by Bill Belichick or Vladimir Putin or both. In the paranoid minds of NFL types, the fear is not that they’ll make a faulty keystroke, causing them to take the wrong player in the first round. It’s that enemy teams will infiltrate their computer system, stealing their state secrets and their proprietary information.
Weeks before the draft, Ravens coach John Harbaugh was worried about Zoom video conferences getting hacked. Of course he was.
”It’s a big concern,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll be OK. I really wouldn’t want the opposing coaches to have our playbook or our draft meetings. That would be preferable, if we can stay away from that.”
I think he and the rest of the micromanagers have it all wrong. I’d submit that a glitch in the system could actually help certain teams. Have you seen some of the Bears’ draft picks over the past few years/decades? If only the Mitch Trubisky pick could have been blamed on bad technology. If only general manager Ryan Pace could have said on draft night three years ago, “Wait, there’s a difference between Zoom and Snapchat?”
Alas, human error was to blame. For all the millions of dollars that NFL teams put into evaluating and selecting college football players, for all the physical and psychological testing they do, they get it wrong more often than not. Because control freaks run football teams and because the money has gotten so big, teams try to make a science out of what is arguably a roulette wheel.
The question, of course, is whether the Bears listened to the data they compiled before the draft on Trubisky or chose to see what they wanted to see. Either way, humans were involved, and where there is human involvement, there is every possibility of toilet-paper hoarding.
However much teams believe that they have it all figured out and that the other 31 teams don’t, they’re usually wrong. That’s why the concern about classified information falling into enemy hands is so silly. The Bears should want another team to find out they plan to draft University of Nonsense offensive tackle Joe Jock with a second-round pick. That way, maybe the Falcons will trade up to snatch him from the Bears, saving Pace from himself. Saving the very private Ryan.
One of the highlights of the renovated Halas Hall is the draft room, which features a massive digital board. It speaks of a lot of things – cutting-edge technology, no stone left unturned, etc. – but it also speaks of the hold the draft has on NFL teams. It’s their lifeblood. I joke about their obsession with methodology, but the draft is normally the way great teams are built.
Even now, designers probably are trying to figure out how to cram a stadium JumboTron into a draft room. But as the technology improves, so do the chances of another team stealing information.
For now, we’ll have to settle for the possibility of stay-at-home glitches and skullduggery. That will have to do. And it will do just fine.