Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Just plain Draft – the Velvet Bear

After all the hype, all the hot air, all the column inches, the NFL finally gets down to the 2008 Draft this weekend. As with everything in the NFL, it seems to have taken an awful long time to arrive and there has been an awful lot of speculation about two days of horsetrading where the final outcome is, frankly, anyone’s guess.

The basic premise of the Draft is to ensure that every one of the 32 teams gets a fair crack at signing the best college players available in a given year. The teams are ranked according to their success in the previous season, then pick in reverse order. The logic of this is that the side which did worst in the year just ended will have most need of the best players in the Draft. This year, the Miami Dolphins were the worst team in the league, finishing 1-15 for the season, so they have the first pick in the draft. The New York Giants won the Superbowl, making them the best team (even though the New England Patriots were unbeaten in the regular season) so they have the 32nd pick. Everyone else falls into the places in between.

There are seven rounds of picks. The first two (or three if there is time) will be on Saturday, the rest on Sunday. All of the big attention is on the first two rounds anyway. Each side gets 15 minutes to make their pick in the first round, ten in the second and five in the other rounds. Surprisingly, this isn’t done just to build the drama of the moment. The Draft is about more than just picking players by rota, like in the school playground.

First of all, there is no transfer system for players in the way that we know it. If a player changes teams during the season, no money changes hands. Instead, teams trade by exchanging players, or by offering Draft picks in exchange for them, or by a combination of the two. If you want to 'buy' a big name quarterback, you might have to offer your first and third round Draft picks to the team he is currently with. Alternatively, if you want an unknown running back, you could get him by giving up a fifth round pick or even lower.

This means that, to begin with, teams have an unequal number of picks in any Draft, because some will have traded away picks and some will have acquired them. The prime example in this Draft is the Patriots. They lost their first round pick as a punishment for the ‘Spygate’ affair last season. As losing Superbowl finalists, they would’ve had the 31st pick. However, they had already acquired the San Francisco 49ers’ first round pick in a trade and so take their 7th spot in the Draft. The 49ers themselves will have the 29th pick, because they received that from Indiannapolis Colts following another trade. And the Dallas Cowboys will have two first round picks, their own and the 22nd pick they received from the Cleveland Browns last year in the bartering which led to the Browns taking Brady Quinn in last year’s Draft (of which more later).

Then there is the problem that drafting new players is expensive. Any side's drafts get a signing on payment, plus, if they make the full team, a guaranteed salary of at least $250,000. A first round pick will demand much more than that – last season’s #1 choice, JaMarcus Russell was still haggling over his contract when the season began in September.

Taking all of this into consideration, some teams prefer not to pick high in the Draft, because they will be paying a lot of money for someone they might not really want when, by swapping their high first round pick for a low first and second round pick, they might get two cheaper players who they do want. This particularly appeals to sides who have extensive rebuilding to do, as they can then draft more players for their money. There’s even talk that the Dolphins might do this, because they need so many new staff.

On the other hand, there are sides who might not want to take many players. A strong team may want one or two very good prospects and that is it, so will trade away all of their other picks to move up the draw in the first and second rounds to be sure of getting who they want. This might appeal to a side like the Colts, who are not in the first round but who don’t think they have many weaknesses anyway.

Finally, you have the compensatory picks. These are extra picks awarded to sides who lost more players than they gained during the February free agency period in 2007. The end result of all this being that some teams, such as Atlanta, have no fewer than 11 picks in this Draft. And boy do they need them!

Now that all of the workouts and tests are over, the top five or six picks are pretty much known. One, Chris Long, is the son of a much loved former player, Howie Long, and will probably be the #1 pick. The problem is that there are four linemen in the top six prospects and, ideally, the Dolphins would like them all. They will certainly pick one of Long, Vernon Gholston and Jake Long, but which one depends very much upon which pundit you ask. Only Bill Parcells knows for sure and something tells me that he will only make his mind up at the last moment.

You might notice that that is only three linemen. The fourth, Glenn Dorsey, is recovering from a leg injury and no-one thinks he will go to either Miami or St Louis, who pick second. Atlanta have the third pick and will almost certainly take the first quarterback, Matt Ryan (and will hope for better luck than they have had with certain other quarterbacks). The next two pickers, Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs, both look set to pick the other two linemen (although the Chiefs will take Ryan if the Falcons go for someone else) leaving the New York Jets to take the first running back in the almost-alliterative Darren McFadden.

Having said all of that, in every year there are surprises. Last year, Brady Quinn was vying for the #1 spot with JaMarcus Russell. Or so everyone thought. Then Quinn plummeted down the rankings and ended up being the 22nd pick. This season, watch out for two other quarterbacks, Chad Henne and Brian Bohm. Both seem to be too lightly rated and Bohm was regarded as a top 10 pick last year – when there were already two other QBs in that top ten – before he decided to go back to college.

Speaking of going back to college, one name missing from the Draft this year is Michael Oher. One of the biggest names in college football and the subject of the best selling book The Blind Side has surprised everyone by deciding to take his final year at college rather than enter the draft. Ole Miss’ gain is the NFL’s loss for this year, but this time next year there will be enough drivel written about him to fill another book.

Finally, a word of warning. Don’t get too excited when someone picks Brandon Flowers. They’ll be getting a cornerback from Virginai Tech, not the lead singer of the Killers. Although, in a year when Billy Crystal has played in MLB, anything is possible!


andrewm said...

Hello Bear,

Presumably there are limits on how many draft picks you can offer for another team's player? Or perhaps on what quality (so to speak) of picks you can offer?

Or is there just an accepted level of offer, eg. three good draft picks for a starting player, two for a good reserve and so on.

Hopefully that question makes sense.

andrewm said...

Bear, my last question was really about the power of the owner and their involvement in squad selection, and if you don't mind I have a few more.

As a rule, how does the ownership structure work? Am I right in thinking that most are owned by one wealthy individual/family? Are there any examples of any kind of collective ownership?

Is the owner free to do as they please, or are there strict league rules governing their actions?

Are most, or any owners actively involved in selecting the coaches and the players? Do they appoint a chief executive figure who does that for them?

Does the head coach usually control draft selections? If not, does he tell the guy in charge which players he would like, or just that he wants a quarterback and two running backs (or whatever it may be)?

velvet bear said...

Hello there,

There are no limits on how many picks you can trade away. Essentially they are yours and you can do what you like with them. Just this week the Vikings gave up their first round pick, both of their third round picks and agreed to swap places in the 6th round in order to acquire Jared Allen from the Chiefs. Oh, and they made Allen the highest paid defensive player in the league at the same time, too.

I don't think there is an acceptable offer, it is more a case of everyone trying to take players for as little as they can and sell them for as much as they can.

Most teams are owned by just one family. The Bears have been owned by the same one, the Hallas', ever since their inception back in the 1920s. Probably the two highest profile owners are Jerry Jones of the Dolphins and Robert Kraft of the Patriots, but you might have heard of Malcolm Glazer of the Buccaneers and Randy Lerner of the Browns.

On the other hand, the Packers are, uniquely, owned by a consortium of fans.

There are certainly some very strict league rules about not bringing the sport into disrepute. In apologising for the 'Spygate' affair last season Kraft was clear that the other 31 owners were his business partners and he didn't want to do anything to harm their collective interests. I think that is a universal view among the owners.

Owners are very involved in selecting their coaches, certainly. They will all have a general manager and the Dolphins have just put in a strange hybrid structure involving Bill Parcells where he is almost all things to everyone. The general rule is that the owner chooses the head coach (with advice from the GM) and the head coach then chooses the assistant and positional coaches.

The head coach will have responsibility for the Draft selections. However, the overall negotiating with the players is usually done either by the owner (Jones usually likes to do this), the GM (e.g. Scott Polian at the Patriots) or a lot of clubs have a head of personnel specifically employed to do it. The same applies on Draft day itself. There's a lot of tactics involved, especially in the early stages and a team may have two or three people talking to different sides, trying to work out who is going to do what - this article explains it far better than I can http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2008/football/nfl/specials/draft/2008/04/24/lombardi.iwould/index.html?eref=si_nfl

Hope that's covered everything you asked, but if I missed anything let me know.

andrewm said...

Thank you indeed, VB - that's made it much clearer. I like to think I understand what's happening on the field, but beyond that it's all been a mystery.

Jared Allen eh?

velvet bear said...

Indeed. Bit of a risk, given that he is one arrest away from a ban under the personal conduct policy, but you don't pay all that money without having a fair idea what you are getting

offsideintahiti said...

Finally got around to reading this, thanks Bear, excellent as ever, if a little confusing (the system, not your writing).

The only draft I remember was at the end of the 86 season (I was living in the US), when this young lad fresh out of college was the first pick and was found dead the next morning. Unless I'm mistaken, and that was the basketball draft... cloudy memory.

Anyway, it's nice to have a place to come to for a quiet word with Andy. How's my favourite Scotsman these days?

andrewm said...

Very well thank you, offside. I think that was a basketball player you were thinking of.

Can we expect an article from you soon? I live in hope.

If you see miro around, tell him to get over here. I can't be the only one who misses him.

offsideintahiti said...

Yeah, I've been thinking about considering writing something. Don't hold your breath.

Miro is to be found in the usual places, and in fine form after a bit of a mid-season slump. I've already asked him twice to pay us a visit, without success.

I'm glad you're fine, but do give some news. Any new feline friends? Tell me about the evenings getting longer. Do you ever sit on top of Calton Hill for the sunset?

andrewm said...

I've never understood why miro won't visit us over here. It's very disappointing. Still, one shouldn't question the master.

I still have the same regular feline visitor. He was around last week, which was entertaining. I have some new scars.

Calton Hill is very nice, but living near Leith as I do I don't get there often. We have seagulls though.

I am holding my breath.

offsideintahiti said...

Please exhale now, I can't have that on my conscience.

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