Yes, the NFL offseason will be changing. But not the way the NFL had envisioned.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that the league and the NFLPA are on the verge of a deal that would move the draft to May, something the league has wanted. The change would apply to at least the next three years.
It’s unclear when in May the draft would occur, but it’s safe to assume that the draft would fall in the window for the Nielsen’s ratings sweeps.
The quid pro quo apparently will come from the movement of the start of the league year (and in turn the launch of free agency) from after the Scouting Combine to before it. While at first blush this suggests the new league year will land in February, the more likely outcome is that the Scouting Combine will happen in March.
Regardless of the precise dates for the Scouting Combine, the change means that the Combine no longer would be the league’s annual tampering swap meet. The market already would be open, and agents would be trying to do deals with teams instead of merely laying the foundation for those deals in a way that violates NFL rules.
The league had wanted to move the Combine to March, to delay the launch of free agency to April, and to nudge the draft to May. The NFLPA wisely balked, since it would delay the transfer of offseason funds from teams to players.
Instead, free agency (and the “signing day” concept the NFL is developing) would happen in late February or early March (like it used to), the Combine would come after that, and the third significant event in the NFL offseason would happen in May, blending seamlessly into OTAs that extend into June, followed by a six-week quiet period that never really is quiet.
If the new approach maximizes opportunities for fans to follow the NFL and further increases interest, it’s hard for a website that derives its audience and revenue from covering the NFL to complain. But we’ll probably find a reason to.