Should NFL hold its draft before free agency?


The question was posed during Thursday night’s NBA draft in the form of a Twitter poll, and NFL fans who are typically reluctant to change embraced the idea by a 12-point margin: Hold the NFL draft before NFL free agency.

Basketball and hockey both do it. Perhaps the NFL should, too.

For veteran players, the knee-jerk reaction would be that they don’t want their looming paydays to be usurped by younger and cheaper draft picks, as teams fill needs by adding rookies in lieu of paying veterans. But what about the teams that don’t get what they want or need in the draft? At that point, a premium could be paid to add a talented veteran free agent because there’s no “screw it we’ll just draft someone” fallback.

One practical impediment to what would be a dramatic change to the offseason calendar comes from the intense time and effort devoted to the draft from the moment football season ends. With the Scouting Combine and Pro Days and team visits and private workouts, the draft couldn’t be moved up by very much if at all, thereby delaying free agency into April, and perhaps May. With offseason programs opening in April, that’s hardly ideal.

So while it’s fun to think about teams first drafting players and then signing veterans, the NFL isn’t likely to change its approach any time soon. Unless the NFL decides that there’s plenty of money to be made by turning the offseason on its head.

30 responses to “Should NFL hold its draft before free agency?

  1. nhl makes sense because players usually dont come in right after being drafted. therefore free agency still allows for bets to get paid rather than replaced. i dont follow nba enough to know if that is a factor. in terms of the nfl, i sunscribe to the “if aint broke dont fix it” ideal.

  2. I think GM’s and players would both be afraid of this change, so it seems extremely unlikely. Teams want to see what happens with premium free agents before they draft, and then try to fill holes in the draft. The free agents who can’t get an offer they like before the draft still have a chance to find a team after the draft. I’m not sure that any of the people involved would logically expect to benefit from having the draft before free agency starts.

  3. Will never happen. The NFL likes its year-round calendar as it is to keep at least some eyeballs paying attention.

    Super Bowl early Feb leads to combine leads to FA leads to draft leads to camps opening leads to preseason and from there the season starts.

    If you move the draft or FA back there is a bigger gap in the calendar when nothing is going on and the league cannot sell premium priced ad space on their network.

    When in doubt, follow the money.

  4. If they get rid of the private workout and Pro Day schedules, and only have regional Combines for follow-up workouts and medical re-checks, they could cut 30-40 days out of the process. Basically, the draft could take place near the end of March, and then free agency could start the 10th of April.

    Most of the time, the work is done already by the middle of March, and teams only wait to finalize their draft board because of all the players who don’t work out at the Combine, choosing instead to conduct the workouts at their Pro Day or personal workouts.

    I think there is potential merit to this. Teams spend a huge amount of money traveling around the country to the pro days, and it is basically because the agents and players want to create an illusion that they have some sort of control over the process. They don’t, so the illusion is pointless.

  5. The sheer volume of annual NFL roster turnover would make an NHL GM’s stomach churn and an NBA GM’s head explode. Because of the competitive disadvantage playoff teams would face it’s not practical to move up the date of the combine and draft by more than a week or two, so that would mean FA couldn’t begin before the end of April. With that type of time lag between the season’s end and the beginning of FA tampering would happen on a scale so massive the word would no longer even be adequate to describe what would be going on. The date of the league year would be thrown completely out of whack along with every existing contract, the union would never agree to that. What about UDFA’s? They aren’t union members so once the draft happens they can’t be blocked from signing without at least one of them suing for restraint of trade.

  6. Once the FA period is over, teams have a good idea where they will stand relative to the cap (slotting system for draft picks means teams don’t know the players they will pick, but they know what they will be paying).

    If the order is reversed, teams will tend to be more likely to draft for need instead of best player available. That in turn will suppress the market for available free agents. (“we got the LB we wanted in the draft, so we won’t be pursuing FA-in-question.”)

    Teams will not want to deal with the financial uncertainty of doing the FA thing after the draft. They cannot risk going into the season with roster gaps they could have filled under the current arrangement.

    In a league that already has so many teams who draft poorly, reversing the FA and Draft sequence would add even more pressure on the draft. That would lower, not raise, the quality of play across the league.

    But since it would also lower the market for FA salaries, it will probably pass…

  7. Yes, the draft should be held before the free agency period. The draft is a crapshoot, all about taking the best player that falls to you. Free agency is about targeting and signing the best player at the position that you need to fill.

    The draft was held before the free agency period in 2011, due to the lockout, and I thought it was much better that year.

  8. Move to a lottery style draft like the NBA. It would add some spice to the doldrums of post SB and Draft weekend.
    And kill the stupid compensatory picks.

  9. It’s not smart for the NFL to copy NHL/NBA regarding FA and the draft. Both of those leagues draftees typically don’t play straight away, it’s the exception when a Connor McDavid or Kristaps Porzingis comes into the league ready to excel. Just look at the average age of each player taken in the first round. NFL…. 21 or 22? NHL… 18? NBA 19?

  10. As someone pointed out with the NHL kids almost 100% of the time going into the minor system first, the NBA is similar. Typically after the first 6 or 8 picks, it’s a crapshoot if the rookies will even see the floor.

  11. Dear God, please stop trying to fix things that aren’t broken. Why should the most successful league, BY FAR, emulate those lesser leagues? These media types won’t be happy until the NFL is completely destroyed.

  12. 1. This would be terrible for veterans, as their value would decrease with younger players being more attractive options. Simple economics

    2. This would mean the league year would have to start after the draft which makes no sense. Players are Free agents as soon as their contracts expire, therefore it would not be contractual to keep those players from signing with any team they want.

    3. It males no difference to me, but it makes the most sense legally and benefits veteran players by keeping them in the league with big long term contracts.

  13. No.. if the nfl had a minor league it would be a different story. FA happens u grab some vets.. now u can take flyers with raw talent in the draft because if they dont pan out u have that vet.. also that vet can help mold that raw talent

  14. NFL teams are (supposedly) unable to talk with any players except Seniors during the season, so that could mean that a lot of Juniors taking more of a risk by declaring for the draft early – with minimal time to get to know the level of team interest in them.

    Also, players whose college goes by the Quarters Rule will be at an even larger disadvantage as there will be an even longer waiting period before they can properly join the team that drafts them.

  15. The draft used to be held in February. Have the Combine in Indy and then later some regional combines. Ditch all the Pro Days.

  16. It’ll never happen.

    Just the way the NFLPA wants it.

    If a team doesn’t draft effectively, it’s their own fault. And don’t forget…there are plenty of free agents available after the draft. They somehow conveniently forget that fact.

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