You think a virtual draft will be a challenge? The NFL is holding its mock version of that process Monday to iron out all the technological wrinkles that might pop up when its teams are on the clock for real beginning Thursday.
But wait until after the draft is over on Saturday evening. That’s when the real chaos will begin.
Even in the best of times, when teams are holed up in their bunkers and have the ability to communicate as easily as talking across a room or passing notes across the table, the frenzy of trying to sign undrafted free agents is an adrenaline rush of confusion.
Scouts and position coaches spend the hours after the draft (and in many cases the hour or so before the draft ends) on the phone with players and agents negotiating everything from signing bonuses to guarantees while pitching matches of roster needs and opportunities. Sometimes they are boxed out by personnel from other teams; sometimes they hog the player themselves to not allow another voice into the process.
All the while, information is coming back to and emanating from a central location . . . usually the general manager.
“There is a lot of coordination at that point, but it’s all happening at the same time and I’m in the middle of the room directing traffic and making decisions,” former Super Bowl-winning general manager Charley Casserly, now an analyst for NFL Network, told Newsday of his recollections of that frantic and fraught time. “Scouts are on the phone, we have a couple of negotiators, but we also give the scouts parameters. I’ll be in the middle of the room, and if anybody has questions, they just fire them to me and I answer them.
“That’s the thing, keeping track of this, because there is a budget and a number of players you have to sign.”
Now imagine doing all of that from more than a dozen different locations with coaches and scouts sequestered in their homes because of restrictions in place to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Teams have had months to put the tops of their draft boards in order. They may have minutes to do so for the bottom of their shopping list.
For the Giants, they may have even less.
As it stands now, the Giants hold the 255th and last pick in the draft, including compensatory picks. Usually that pick would be half-jokingly called “Mr. Irrelevant” because the player usually is a footnote to the entire draft, with little chance of actually making a roster. But this year, that pick will have added relevance. It will allow the Giants (or, if they trade the pick at some point, whoever winds up with it when it rolls around on the crawl) an opportunity to be the last team to select a player without competition from the rest of the league.
“You’re going to be able to nail a guy that you probably would have lost,” said Mark Dominik, former GM of the Buccaneers and now an analyst for SiriusXM’s NFL Radio. “It may be a guy from the West Coast who after the draft it would have been hard to get him to come all the way to the East Coast, so you take him with your last pick because you might be recruiting against a lot.”
Then again, having a pick late in the seventh – or in the case of the Giants, three seventh-rounders among the final 18 scheduled picks – also can be a distraction.
“I personally think it’s more of a detriment than a positive,” Dominik said. “I think it makes it harder. I’d rather have fewer seventh-rounders or none this year just because I’d rather be able to team up with my guys and pair a college scout with a position coach and have them already have their tiers of what’s left on the board. Then as they fall out, you can quickly text and say ‘OK, this guy is out. You can adjust your package and what you can offer to this.’”
The Giants have a little bit of history with the final pick in the draft. In fact, they had the last pick in the NFL’s first draft in 1936, selecting guard Phil Flanagan from Holy Cross 81st overall at the end of the ninth round. Flanagan never signed with the Giants. At the time, NFL salaries were so low that many players had better options in other pursuits.
Since the 1970 merger, the Giants have made the final pick twice, selecting running back John Tuggle from California in 1983 and quarterback Larry Wanke from John Carroll in 1991. In both years, the NFL had 12 rounds of the draft instead of the current seven. Though they barely made an impact on the field (Wanke was never on an NFL roster), Tuggle played one season and died of cancer in 1985. His number 38 was on a sticker on the helmet of each player who represented the Giants in Super Bowl XXI.
Who will the final pick be this time? Even the best mock drafts can hazard only a guess at this point.
More important, though, may be who the Giants get after Mr. Irrelevant and how they are able to do so. They’ve had much more luck with undrafted free agents such as Victor Cruz, Rich Seubert, Mark Herzlich and Henry Hynoski over the years than seventh-round picks (although Ahmad Bradshaw certainly stands as a seventh-round outlier).
“Orchestrating this thing at the end of the draft is going to be very hard, I think,” Casserly said. “Just the mechanics of how this happens, those players come off fast at the end and you are trying to keep track of this. That’s easy when everyone is in the room . . . You may just have to simplify it, go after fewer players or have more people do it.”
“What you have to do there for Gettleman is probably pick out two or three guys you love and just go full bore for them,” he said. “Realize you are not going to get the seven or eight guys you want because you just can’t have the coverage that some clubs will have with their ability to communicate and not think about who they are going to pick . . . You always try to be as organized as possible, but I think it’s going to be harder to be that organized when you are still thinking about pick 255.”