Don’t expect NFL to adopt NBA’s draft-then-free-agency model

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From time to time in recent years, influential voices in the NFL have pointed out the potential wisdom of conducting the draft before free agency. And while there would be benefits to doing so, those benefits could be outweighed both by the costs and by the impracticalities of change.

The teams would benefit by having a chance to address their needs with young, cheap incoming players before making decisions on higher-priced veterans. That generally would hurt the higher-priced veterans, in many cases. Depending on the manner in which the draft unfolds, however, it could create more leverage for free agents in cities where the need wasn’t addressed via the draft, since there are only so many picks.

It also would give free agents a better understanding of their roles with new teams; all too often, for example, a quarterback signs with a new team, ostensibly to be the starter, and then the team drafts a quarterback in round one. No quarterback or other player could ever claim to be bamboozled by subsequent draft choices if the draft choices are made before the free-agency contract is signed.

Still, players generally would prefer to proceed with the cash-flow bonanza of free agency, since it’s likely that less money would ultimately be spent if the draft came first. Plenty of teams make free-agency decisions based not simply on making the team better but based on generating offseason excitement. If the draft fills that void in, say, March, maybe there would be less of a need to spend a team’s way to relevance in April.

And that’s the other issue with flipping the NFL draft before free agency. Currently, the NFL has a perfectly-spaced trio of offseason tentpoles: Scouting Combine in February, free agency in March, draft in April. If the draft happens first, when does it happen? Will there be enough time to properly scout the players? How long after the draft would free agency begin? Would offseason programs actually launch before free agency?

Although a Twitter poll on the topic has most of you (as of this posting) preferring a draft before free agency, things aren’t likely to change. The players won’t want to delay their paydays, and they definitely won’t want to replace the broader spending spree with more focused, narrow shopping decisions. The league, in turn, won’t feel compelled to upset the offseason applecart, especially since some sort of major concession would have to be made to get the players to agree to a change in the well-established status quo.

15 responses to “Don’t expect NFL to adopt NBA’s draft-then-free-agency model

  1. And then there is this complication: the start of free agency is tied to the start of the league year, by necessity (business is open again)! Having the draft before free agency would, by necessity, force the draft into the periods before the league year begins, requiring the same silly song-and-dance of “agreed upon but not official” trades that we see during the NBA draft. Imagine no draft pick trades being official until some time after the draft itself? Woof!

  2. NFL Draft system works just fine the NBA Draft process in my opinion is not a good system

  3. “since it’s likely that less money would ultimately be spent if the draft came first.”
    ———————-

    The NFL has a hard salary cap, and with rookies on slotted salaries, that means money HAS to be spent either on existing players or free agents.

  4. “especially since some sort of major concession would have to be made to get the players to agree to a change in the well-established status quo.”
    ————————–

    Too late – it’s already in the CBA. The commissioner may set the Draft Day anywhere between Feb 14. to June 2.

  5. > And while there would be benefits to doing so, those benefits could be outweighed both by the costs and by the impracticalities of change.

    I think it would be a positive to have the draft then free agency.

    1. Teams would know what they have, and then sign players at positions they are weak at.

    2. I don’t think there would be much impact on free agents. Maybe a team or two wouldn’t be as desperate for a position, on the other hand the salary cap is a zero-sum game. Less money spent on one free agent means more money spent on another or several players. It’s not like anyone loses a job, just that one guy makes less, and the cap savings results in that money being shifted to others. Its neutral.

    The only downside is the impact on college, with the draft held sooner. I’m not sure this is a big deal.
    As for players wanting to cash in, a free agent has already made some money, it’s not like if they have to wait a month they will be inconvenienced.

    Bottom line: Money better spent, and the players as a group still get the same amount of money.

  6. I’d like to see the NFL implement a max cap percentage for players. Meaning no one player can exceed X percentage of the cap. QB salaries are shaking down the rest of the roster

  7. akira1971 says:

    June 21, 2019 at 8:22 am

    “since it’s likely that less money would ultimately be spent if the draft came first.”
    ———————-

    The NFL has a hard salary cap, and with rookies on slotted salaries, that means money HAS to be spent either on existing players or free agents.
    ———
    They’ve got a salary cap sure but that doesn’t negate the point being made. If free agency opens right now and 6 teams need a safety and there’s only 2 premier safeties who are free agents a bidding war could potentially happen but if the draft happens and 5 of those teams draft a safety then the price of those 2 free agents get driven down. Or as all about supply and demand.

  8. >>Cap’n Skaarj says:
    June 21, 2019 at 9:00 am
    I’d like to see the NFL implement a max cap percentage for players. Meaning no one player can exceed X percentage of the cap. QB salaries are shaking down the rest of the roster

    I disagree. Overpaying QBs should hurt you just like overpaying other players.
    If you choose to pay Kirk Cousins 28MM then you should suffer the consequences.
    It may be better to have a so-so QB that you pay 18MM than a slightly better one that you pay 28MM.

    The beauty of a hard cap is everything self corrects. If position A becomes more important then resources flow there and other positions make less. You will see RBs stop getting paid 15MM for elites and 10MM for very good.

  9. NFL teams have to scout and evaluate a lot more players than NBA teams do. If you’re not picking in the top half of the first round, whoever you pick is unlikely to make much of an impact on your basketball team. You’re looking for one guy who might contribute and maybe another who could develop into something in a few years. In the NFL, there are a lot more positions to fill and depth is more important. They need the extra time to prepare.

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