Nothing is official yet, but Adam Schefter is reporting that the NFL is looking to revamp the offseason schedule. The main feature is that the draft is likely to move back from April to May. Other likely changes include moving the scouting combine to March, and starting the league year before the combine rather than after.
There are several ramifications to all this, but I want to start with the most important one: How does this affect us Dallas Cowboys fans?
Well, that dead zone between the Super Bowl (or, if you quit watching when your team quits playing, the last game you watch) and the draft is going to be longer. Now, if you love nothing more than doing endless mock drafts and watching every bit of video on every conceivable draft pick out there, this might be a good thing. But if you are one of those people, like me, that can't wait for the draft to finally show up, since it is the most exciting event between the final whistle of the season and the start of real football (which can be the first game, the first preseason game, or the start of training camp, depending on your personal view), that wait is just going to be a pain.
Obviously, the reactions to this will not be unanimous. And we will have to adjust if the league does manage to get this done.
The objective put forward by the league is for the new schedule to help build interest, creating a more continuous buildup for the season. The new schedule is expected to run roughly like this:
End of February/beginning of March: Start of league year/free agency
Late July: Training camp
September - December: Regular Season
Early February: Super Bowl
As you can see, the idea here is to have something going on year round to maintain fanbase interest, with the pace increasing as the season draws nearer. Currently, the feeling seems to be that there is too much of a gap after the draft and between the mandatory minicamp and the beginning of training camp when the interest level will begin to wane a bit. I don't know if free agency is really sufficient to maintain the interest level for a whole month, since it tends to be less universally important to teams. But the team seems to want to push the slowest time of the year to right after the Super Bowl, so there is a ramping up of interest leading into training camp and the regular season.
Looking at the monetary impact, having the draft come afterwards takes a lot of pressure off the teams to sign players until then. The more likely outcome, as pointed out by NFL Philosophy in a Tweet, is that teams will wait to sign many of the free agents until after the draft, leaving those players in a longer limbo about their future. Only the "prime" free agents can expect to get their deals wrapped up until teams have a better idea of where they stand post-draft. This may not be a great deal of change in emphasis than now, but the time factor is going to work in favor of the teams. The window after the draft for the free agents to find a new job is going to be smaller, and they may be less willing to wait on a potentially better deal as the season looms closer. The rookie pay scale already seems to be putting downward pressure on the free agent salaries, and this is likely to just make it worse.
Money is definitely the driving factor behind the changes, and none seems bigger than getting the draft into the May television sweeps. One of the real marketing success stories in the past few years has been how the NFL and ESPN have turned the draft into a major event. It is certainly the most watched thing on the NFL Network during the entire offseason, and you know they want to use it to increase advertising rates. Putting it in the May sweeps will do just that.
The players seem to be getting a bad deal, again. Depending on just how the draft falls, there is going to be some compression of time for the players between the end of OTAs/minicamp and the start of training camp. The CBA was designed to protect the players to some extent by limiting their exposure in practices during the offseason, and this puts a little bit more back on them. But this may be fairly minor compared to the expected next move: A push for the 18 game season.
It is no secret that the league would love to add two more games to the season, with the way the ratings have continued to be so strong for the games. The players are against it, both for the extra wear and tear they would endure, and for the fact they have not exactly been making out like gangbusters monetarily under the new CBA. From a logical standpoint, the 18 game season should mean an automatic and proportional increase in the pay scales, as well as adding a couple of players to the 53 man roster. However, logic is not what drives things. This is all about the dollars, and the collective ownership of the NFL has demonstrated that they are going try to come out ahead on any deal.
The NFLPA may grow some, uh, fortitude and fight this off if it comes, but the experience of the recent negotiations are not encouraging if you want to see that. Admittedly, this is speculative anyway since no real moves have been made towards reopening the 18 game discussion, but moving the draft back does look an awful lot like a way to make that more workable.
In the meantime, the rescheduling of the draft looks almost certain. It doesn't really matter, but here is a chance to express your opinion on this.