Last year, the NFL Combine was the last thing that went off more or less as scheduled before the entire offseason came to a halt for the league. It has always been a time that we watch closely. It doesn’t only offer a chance to see who may be better or worse than we thought based on the testing, the interviews and rumors coming out also gave us some hints at what the Dallas Cowboys were thinking about acquiring new talent. Now, we have none of that, as the continuing COVID pandemic has forced the league to shut down the annual Underwear Olympics and move everything to remote and virtual environments.
This obviously has a huge impact on the team, but it also starves us for information. One of the annual traditions here was tracking the official visits to the Star, because it was a great way to not only figure out individual players the team was interested in, it also tipped which positions were likely to be targeted. We might even get a hint of whether they might be interested in draft day trades by looking at how the players they brought in stacked up in pre-draft projections. To a lesser extent, there was also some intel to be gathered from who the team was interviewing at the Combine. These were bits of information that the Cowboys were not exactly forthcoming about, although they usually came out before the NFL Draft. Now, the Dallas staff will have a better chance of adhering to their penchant for secrecy about such things as there does not seem to be any plan to reveal who does interview with teams, and it is not clear that there is any limit on the numbers. It is likely that we will get a lot of reports from agents about which teams are interviewing their clients, but it is possible this will be a much wider net than the in-person visits cast.
The virtual part of meeting with prospects is something that the entire league now has a year of practice at, but not having all the testing and drills done under standardized conditions in Indianapolis adds a new challenge. The league is working hard to make things more reliable and eliminate the often favorable timings and such that always seemed to happen at pro days. It still has to be more difficult in many ways. The Cowboys seemed in the past to winnow which pro days they were interested in from the Combine results, but that approach clearly will change.
There also is another impact on teams that is far less obvious. As was reported at NFL.com, college prospects were not the only things that staffs were working on at the Combine.
Along with all the listed changes, the absence of in-person workouts will prevent the usual gatherings of team front-office members, coaches and agents that lead to talk about pending free agency, as pointed out by NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo.
For the writers here, and for our readers, this is going to increase the uncertainty about what the Cowboys are thinking. We will be mostly left with rumors, information passed on by parties that have a vested interest in either hyping or downplaying certain things, and whatever Jerry Jones decides to share in his free-wheeling, stream of consciousness way. There is a greater chance we will be surprised by some things, especially during the draft. That is not always a bad thing.
In any case, we will do what we can to keep you informed. We just have to accept that the information is going to be murkier than ever before.