“Inside the War Room”
The term “war room” is actually a misnomer when referring to an NFL team’s “draft room”, however, the idea comes from the fact that the club’s decision-makers do stay back at their respective facilities while a player personnel staff assistant or equipment manager will handle the phones “on the front-lines” at AT&T Stadium in Arlington this year. So what does happen in the “war room” in the days leading up to the draft? Here are a few things on every General Manager’s checklist:
-Final Medical Grades
This may be the most important “grade” in the entire draft process. The medical meetings usually take place a few weeks after the Combine and again after the re-checks, which took place last weekend. If there are questions on any particular prospects, it is not uncommon for the GM to meet with the team doctors and training staff one last time to make the call on a given player. As an example, Ohio State center Billy Price suffered a triceps injury at the Combine during the bench press. At the re-check, medical personnel will make an assessment of his rehab and then project when he will be cleared to practice. For some teams, his availability will impact their decision as to where Billy should be drafted. And remember this, just like scouts, doctors and trainers often have differing opinions from their counterparts across the league.
-Ultimate Scouts’ Meeting
The GM usually likes to meet the day before the draft with only his player personnel department to give his scouts the opportunity to “speak now or forever hold your peace” about the final draft board. Most clubs have 100-150 names on their “draftable” board. In Baltimore and Cleveland, we wanted the scouts to place a single “Red Star” on their favorite prospect, not necessarily the best player, but an individual that has a team-first mentality, will work hard and never be a problem off the field. On the other end of the spectrum, the scouts had the option to place a “Black Dot” on any individual that they simply did not want any part of due to off-field issues or concerns. This is the scouting version of Pontius Pilate saying to the GM, “if you pick this guy, it’s on you”. One other thing some GM’s will do is allow their scouts to put together their own individual “wish lists” for each round of the draft, kind of their dream scenario for who they would like to add to the team. This meeting is probably the most enjoyable of the entire process. It’s a lot of fun and almost becomes ceremonial when the scouts go to the board and place those red star and black dot stickers on a prospect’s draft card.
-Draft Day Game Plan
In the old days, each GM would have to put together a game plan for the first three rounds. Now, with only the 1st Round on Thursday night, the scope is limited to just the first 32 picks. Subsequently, on Friday and Saturday morning, each team can re-assess their thinking and see what the board looks like going into each respective day. But, a typical strategy session will include these questions (as an example, let’s pretend we are the Arizona Cardinals picking 15th in the 1st Round):
1. RANK AT LEAST THE NUMBER OF PROSPECTS EQUAL TO YOUR SPOT: Fifteen prospects are ranked #1 through #15. In case the draft goes exactly as we have them rated (which is highly unlikely, but can happen), we will have someone to choose if we get locked into the slot.
2. STAYING PUT: Of the fifteen ranked prospects, we really only think eight of them are “elite” with Pro Bowl potential. Therefore, if any of those eight are available at #15, we will turn in the card without question, regardless of the prospect’s position.
3. MOVING UP: If a specific prospect in our elite eight is still available at #10, we would consider trading one of our 3rd round choices for the spot, and would even go as far as trading our 2nd if it means getting a quarterback.
4. MOVING DOWN: If all eight of our elite ranked prospects are selected or three or more of them are still available at #15, we will attempt to move down beginning at pick #17. At pick #12, we will begin canvassing the teams at #17 Chargers, #19 Cowboys, #20 Lions and #21 Bengals. (Pre-calls would have already been made to these teams prior to the draft to gauge their interest in trading up and we don’t plan on doing business with the Seahawks at pick #18).
5. #1 OBJECTIVE: The goal is to end up with one of our eight elite prospects in the 1st Round, period. If we cannot get that accomplished, then we will attempt to move back and collect picks in order to be more flexible in the 2nd and 3rd
-Prospect/Agent Phone Numbers
All contact information must be double-checked prior to the draft, so that there are no problems when the club is trying to reach the player. Every GM wants to make sure the card he is about to turn in has the name of a player who is “alive and well” before making it official. One time in the Canadian Football League, a team drafted a player who literally died several hours before the draft. Awful, but true!
-Phone Check/Cell and Wi-Fi Service
Entry-level staffers are usually charged with making sure the phone lines are functioning and properly connected to the team’s table in Arlington, the league office table at AT&T Stadium and the other 32 clubs’ “war rooms”. With the draft changing venues from Philadelphia to Dallas, this entry on the checklist cannot be overlooked and, nowadays, this includes cell service and Wi-Fi availability, too.
-Priority Free Agents
It is never too early to begin recruiting the possible free agent prospects that will not be drafted over the weekend. Each scout is usually assigned a specific position, and along with an assistant coach, they will work together in formulating a targeted list of players. By the end of the 5th round, the GM will have a “budget” for each position, based on what has been added in the draft and the current depth chart. The scouts will now know how many players are needed and at what price they can pay. As an example, if a team only needs one tight end, and a rated prospect is still left on the board, the GM may give the scout $20,000 to go get him. If there are no quality TE’s left, then the budget may only be $1,000 and the scout is expected to find a camp body for that price. Throughout the spring, the scouts are expected to have made contact with these different candidates and built a relationship for this very situation.
Most GM’s want all of the information at their fingertips almost like being in the cockpit of an aircraft. About two hours before the draft, the staff assistants will bring in all of the reports, questionnaires, interviews, a trade chart, post-its, pencils, highlighters and any number of requested items that will put the GM at ease before the big event begins.
When Commissioner Roger Goodell walks to the podium to begin the “Annual Selection Meeting”, as Paul Harvey would say, “now you know the rest of the story”.