The COVID-19 pandemic has been impacting the daily lives and work environments of people around the world. So forgive the powers that be in the NFL if they are not obsessing about the complaints of some in the football community about the security and feasibility of an online draft.
Troy Vincent, the NFL's vice president of football operations and someone deeply involved in the reshaping of the draft selection process, which begins in two weeks, is not really in the mood to listen to worst case scenarios about hacked Zoom sessions between teams and leaked draft picks. As someone who has also had to adapt to vastly altered work conditions, and has had to sort through some massive logistical issues within the NFL league offices, Vincent wants coaches and general managers to chill out, accept their new reality and trust the process when it comes to this draft going off without any major technological or security breaches.
Vincent has heard some of the pleas from Ravens coach John Harbaugh, Chiefs coach Andy Reid, Saints coach Sean Payton and Seahawks general manager John Schneider expressing concern for how secure this draft will be. And he has a very simple message for them.
"Stop it!" Vincent told me Thursday afternoon as a guest on my radio show, Inside Access on 10.7 The Fan in Baltimore. "Stop it, coach. Stop it now! You saw the reports that GMs don't like it and this and that. OK, we're going to find out exactly where the true talent evaluators are, OK. We're not using these big 'ol draft rooms and all of this high tech, we're going to go back to where we used to be. You've got one phone, you've got email and we're going to work with our partners on Microsoft Teams and we've got Here, where you can talk, and you've got apps, and we're going to conduct the draft as you always have.
"Forget the luxuries. I don't want to discuss luxuries with you. We're going to go back to just the brass knuckles. Just like as a player you prepare one way all week long and then someone says, 'Guess what, we have to play here and it's raining and muddy or it's cold.' Coach Harbaugh, no one is going to hack into your system. Stop it! You and (GM) Eric (DeCosta) and (senior advisor) Ozzie (Newsome) know exactly who you want, when you want them, if they're available …
"And we're going to communicate the redundancy plans that we have in place … We have redundancy after redundancy, which we'll state. As we get closer to the draft we'll start laying that out publicly. Today, the focus has really been about, 'What are we going to do for these first responders?' We'll get to the draft, but what are we going to do today? But coach Harbaugh, you're going to be fine. Coach Reid, you're going to be fine. Coach Payton, you're going to be just fine. John Schneider, stop it, please! That nice house out there, you're going to be just fine."
Vincent said the driving force in all conversations about the revised NFL draft, and entire offseason for that matter, has always been about determining the safest way to conduct business while also finding a way to give back to those putting themselves at risk to help others during this crisis.
"Every conversation from the senior staff, starting with the commissioner, as we talk as an executive team, is what role can we play in society today?" Vincent said. "And that is the challenge for each of us and is pushing us, what can we do in relief efforts, how do we support the first responders? That has been at the top of every discussion every day in light of the draft and draft preparations and trying to complete committee reports that are due to the clubs and having calls with GMs regarding rule proposals. It is, 'What are we doing to address these issues about people getting help?' which I really appreciate."
Vincent said there are merits to the rule proposals suggested by the Rams and Ravens regarding potential additions to the onsite officiating teams, whether on field and off. That inspired significant back and forth within the competition committee over the weekend ahead of their formal recommendations, which will be presented to each club on Friday. "Our officiating committee is diving into that today as we speak," Vincent told us.
As to the prospect of delaying the draft and pushing it back, that was a primary topic of conversation within the league office. It was a staple of daily meetings between Goodell and his staff and the leading owners in the NFL, but after conferring with the medical authorities and legal authorities (about workplace regulations), there was strong support to continue the draft April 23.
"There's always been (conversations about postponing the draft)," Vincent said. "I think the commissioner has been in tune and talking to leadership around the country, and as each of us knows, if we watch television, it seems like every hour things are changing, but that was always an option.
"If that was something that we needed to do, I think the commissioner, along with the CEC (executive committee of owners) ... if they felt we shouldn't go forward they would make that decision. But once we realized if we're working in accordance with the stay-at-home order and everyone was functioning the same, we could still put this on and make it for the good of the country and still conduct our business and still celebrate those prospects in a safe and responsible way and be a diversion."
Vincent said the NFL is not yet discussing some worst case scenarios, such as a truncated 14 or 12 or 10 or 8 game season, or altering projected schedules based on the new stadiums in Las Vegas and Los Angeles not being ready on time.
"No, we're not there yet, we're not there yet," Vincent said. "And the reason why is because it's been evolving and you can look at all the other sports leagues and sports organizations and the college level and we can learn from them. The fortunate thing about today is we're not in our season … We can sit back today and learn. It's not that we are not conscious of what could happen, but there is no reason for us to overreact or create something – 'hey the National Football League has already ...' – no, we're just monitoring."
Vincent is confident that the new, and strange, orders of operation for virtual offseason camps will be finalized and issued to teams within the next few days. Coaches are eager to learn, then they will get the full edict on how much contact and what types of online contact they can conduct with players in a situation in which it appears to all involved as if Organized Team Activities and walkthroughs and light practices – as are the norm this time of year – will not be taking place anywhere in the NFL.
"The NFLPA and their senior leaders," Vincent said, "and the executive committee and our management have been talking on a daily basis just trying to finalize what that should look like. ... We're hoping that any day they finalize what that is. … They are talking on a daily basis to quickly finalize what that virtual offseason looks like."