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.