Cowboys are closing in on an NFL draft we’ve never seen before, but what comes after?

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In case there were eternal optimists in the NFL thinking otherwise, we learned over the weekend that social distancing will continue at least through the end of April. And that means that NFL teams must make drastic changes in terms of how they approach the draft barely three weeks away.

We have all seen pictures of the Cowboys’ draft room (they prefer to call it a “war room” but I’ll leave that silliness to them). Normally it is packed with scouts, coaches and Joneses. Basically, it looks like the situation room on The West Wing, only more intense. But on the night of April 23, I’m thinking Jerry and Stephen Jones, head coach Mike McCarthy and vice president of player personnel Will McClay spreading out across the room is about it. Everyone else checks in via the magic of Zoom, perhaps?

Keep in mind NFL facilities are currently closed, and that the days and long hours of meetings and draft board construction in 32 separate facilities are being conducted via computer, phone, Skype, whatever. For now, they are closed through next Wednesday, but with no real indications of progress, it’s crazy to think the doors will be thrown open at that time.

In fact, Dr. Thom Mayer, the medical director for the NFLPA, said on Adam Schefter’s podcast Monday he can’t imagine the NFL getting back to regular business until training camps in July.

“What we do now will determine whether or not there’s a season,” Mayer said. “It’s going to be six to eight weeks before we get a sense of how hard it’s going to be.”

Mayer pointed out something that has not been discussed at length which is that the time to re-open doors may vary from city to city.

“If you look at the map, with the possible exception of Green Bay, we have to look at where the hot spots are,” Mayer said. “It will be not just the players and the coaches but the cities in which they reside that make the determination.”

It is such a bizarre scenario, unlike anything we have ever seen. On the one hand, NFL teams plowed through free agency, now it’s on to the draft and who knows if the league will even produce a schedule in May we can all get excited about. Does any of it mean anything? No one has that answer.

I’m not questioning NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision to stick to the natural schedule. Had the league postponed the draft for a month, that would only have been a guess as to when things will be better. Who can say with any confidence they won’t be the same or worse?

So the smart play is to do what you can and embrace the fact that you’re not the NBA or NHL or MLB, already losing games and money and time. Still, this will be a draft unlike any other both in terms of preparation and production.

Most colleges never got around to staging their pro days, although that’s not something that impacts a majority of players. NFL scouts have college players’ entire careers to examine. They have all the tests and the interviews and the footage from the NFL combine. That’s a heck of a lot more information than NBA scouts might be using to draft players this summer after a college basketball season that didn’t even get to the conference championship games, much less March Madness, before being forced to pull the plug.

There is no question that some players, potentially at the bottom of the draft who might not have earned combine invitations, have been affected. And at the top of boards, neither the Miami Dolphins nor any other interested party can ask Alabama quarterback Tua Tagavailoa to undergo a physical between now and the first round. Given the ankle, knee and hip injuries he endured in 2019, Tua will force educated guesswork upon NFL teams the likes of which we have never seen. Rumors that he is slipping behind Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert are just beginning to spread.

Then there will be the actual draft, conducted not amidst the glitz and glamour of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas as originally planned but more likely a no-frills studio in which players will mostly be introduced via their cellphone cameras.

Once the Cowboys make their selections, what then? The usual introductions that come a week later will be postponed for sure.

“OTA’s are probably not going to happen,” Mayer said. “I’m an optimistic person by nature. I think we’ll know a lot more in late May and early June about what’s going to happen. You’re probably looking at training camps (in July) as the starting point, but what will they look like? Will they involve only essential personnel? What could games look like in the fall? Would they have fans and, if so, would we be taking their temperatures as they come into the stadium?”

It’s almost enough to make you think that a couple of unfilled holes in the Cowboys’ defense aren’t the most important thing in the world.


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