Teams look at mock drafts
Each teams' decision makers (the general manager, personnel director, team president and coach) are now contemplating draft-day strategy. Should the team move up in the draft? Should the team move down? These people have to closely examine the types of players the teams that select before, and after, are considering in the draft.
This is also a good time for team staffs to run through a few mock drafts. This may give a team insight on other teams' draft intentions. A lot of things are said among coaches, scouts and personnel people out on the road during the Senior Bowl, NFL Scouting Combine or pro days. Can a picture of what a team may do in the draft already be painted? Could that team get caught expecting a certain player to fall to them, only to come up short? When I was working with the New York Jets, we thought we knew exactly where we had to go in the 1991 NFL Draft to be in position to pick Brett Favre. We came up one spot short as the Atlanta Falcons got Favre with the No. 33 overall pick. We then took Browning Nagle with the No. 34 overall selection, and the rest was NFL history.
Trade winds pick up
The week before the draft is also when teams set up parameters for a draft-day trade. They do this in case a targeted player is going to be at a spot that a team decides to get to in order to select said player. When I was working for the Jets, we divided up teams to be contacted based on our working relationship with other clubs. If I had a strong relationship with somebody such as Bruce Allen -- then with the Raiders -- or Bill Kuharich -- then with the Saints -- I would have a discussion about the viability of a trade during the draft.
If those teams were open to the concept of a trade, then we would have a preliminary discussion about parameters. We would never discuss any players of interest, but simply say something to the effect of, "if the guy we want is there when you pick, we would like to move up and here's what we would give you to do it."
That team in turn would say that if the player they wanted to pick was there, then they would stay at that pick and select him. If that player was no longer on the board, then we would do the deal.
Back then, I would keep a journal of all of the discussions everybody on the staff had with the other teams and have ourselves ready to initiate a draft-day trade if the stars were aligned. There's very little chance that a trade that involves a veteran player can happen during the draft without some communication in the week before the event. This draft promises to be a lot more active with trades due to the extra night after the first round. That should allow for enough time for teams to really negotiate trades.
Smoke and mirrors
As the draft approaches, more and more rumors begin to circulate. Late news of an undisclosed injury or an off-the-field issue can significantly alter a player's status.
I remember three days before the 1995 NFL Draft. It was then that some negative information about Warren Sapp leaked out. Sapp slid down in the first round, and we had two first-round picks that year. When I heard that he was coming to New York City to attend the draft and be subjected to the cameras, while sweating out a long wait in the Green Room, I went to his hotel. I told Sapp that if he fell to us -- a thought that surprised him -- we couldn't select him. I advised him to get out of town before the draft started. Sapp turned down that suggestion and waited out the draft process until finally being selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the No. 12 overall pick.
In another draft, word circulated that we were very interested in taking a certain running back high in the first round. A team picking right below us also coveted that back. After conversations with that team in the week before the draft, we expressed that we were interested in moving down in the first round. That team picking below us called the night before the draft and offered us a good player to switch draft spots. We took the deal and still wound up drafting a player we wanted very much.
Sort through the lies
Due to overwhelming speculation, general managers and coaches simply have to lie to the media to keep their true draft intentions secret.
Each team will hold pre-draft press conferences, and the trick for the team leaders is to say nothing while talking for approximately 45 minutes. For example, when a front-office member is asked a simple question such as, "Are you opposed to moving down in the first round?" and responds no, then rumors are launched that the team is looking to sell the spot. This is a very combustible week for mistruths.
There can be significant volatility in the week leading up to the draft.
A team's draft board has been getting set for months, and then all of a sudden a player or two that may have been ranked around 25th to 30th gets bumped up to the 10-15 range.
How can that happen when all discussions over a player are supposedly over?
Well, there can be certain people in this league working for different teams -- such as two general managers -- who have a great respect for each other. They get into a private conversation about their draft boards, and then discover that they have a player graded much differently. Before you know it, one general manager is convincing the other general manager what he missed in the evaluation process. Just like that, a player is moved on the draft board. It has happened many times, and it drives scouts crazy that their boss may be listening to somebody outside the organization and reacting to their evaluation.
And then, there are the agents
Of course, agents have to get in on the action. If their client is slipping down draft boards, then an all-out marketing campaign is under way. Highlight tapes will be sent to every team. Rumors about a secret team being interested in taking that player at a spot higher than expected will surface.
This week alone I received three highlight takes on players that made the player look absolutely fantastic and attempted to address teams' concerns that may be holding that player back.
A good agent is going to work overtime this week in a last-ditch effort to help his client in what is commonly called "damage control."