No one wants to think about the possibility that the NFL won’t be able to play in 2020, but if the virus controls the calendar in a way that prevents pro football from happening, one question will be the proper order for the 2021 selection process.
It’s way down the road, to be sure. But it’s impossible to rule it out at this point, because it’s impossible to rule out anything until a vaccine and/or quick are effective treatment are developed to eradicate the coronavirus.
And so if the NFL eventually has to construct a draft order without a season preceding it, the NFL could (as suggested by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press) look to the precedent created by the NHL in 2005, after a lockout wiped out a season.
That year, the prize was Sidney Crosby — and hockey came up with a three-tiered lottery to determine who would get dibs on him. Three balls, two balls, or one ball were handed out to all teams based on performance in the three prior seasons. Teams who hadn’t been to the playoffs at all and hadn’t had the No. 1 overall pick in any of the four prior drafts received three balls. Teams with only one playoff appearance or one No. 1 pick received two. Everyone else got one.
“Half the league probably wanted everybody to have an equal chance, and the other half wanted all the teams that didn’t make the playoffs to have the only chances, weighted or unweighted,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said at the time, via Birkett. “And if you look at the statistical odds of both scenarios, what we did is about in the middle. And so actually nobody was particularly thrilled, but everybody understood that on balance it was probably the fairest way to approach it.”
The NFL has resisted generally the concept of a draft lottery, possibly to avoid shining a light on the obvious connection between losing in a lost season and winning better status in the draft. A lottery for 2021 likely would generate intense interest, showing the league that it could join the Scouting Combine, free agency, the schedule release, and the draft as key moments in the non-playing season.
Whatever the process would be, the league would have to come up with something in order to fairly determine who picks when in the 2021 draft, if there’s no 2020 NFL season. Whatever the order, the 2021 draft would be even more of a crapshoot, if there’s no 2020 NFL season.
If there’s no 2020 NFL season, there will be no 2020 college football season. Which will force teams to make decisions about prospects who hadn’t played or practiced football in nearly a year and a half.