Get Ready For The NFL Combine

The NFL is a master at controlling the publicity machine for its product.  This may be the off-season, but the NFL has spaced out events along the calendar that it markets/hypes in ways that make those events far more meaningful than they really are.  The first of those concocted events is the NFL Combine that is held in Indy starting tomorrow.  In an unusual twist, the NFL was threatened with a boycott of the Combine by agents who represented approximately half of the players who were invited to participate.

How did that come about?  It seems that there are specialty coaches and trainers out there whose niche practices involve preparing players for the specific regimens presented by the Combine.  These specialists are highly valued by both players and their agents but the NFL Covid protocols originally put forth for the Combine would not have allowed these specialists to be at the Combine to work with and “coach up” their clients.  Here you had the makings of a labor/management dispute that might disrupt the Combine and the TV show that the Combine creates for NFL Network.  Unlike their counterparts in MLB, the agents and the players association and the league figured out how to resolve the issue like adults by modifying the Covid protocols in a way that is acceptable to everyone.

So, the show will go on – even though I will probably not watch more than 5 minutes of it – from March 1st through March 7th.  The first days are devoted to player/team interviews; the actual workouts go from March 3rd through March 6th.  An invitation to the Combine – and participation in the drills there – is important for draft eligible players who are not already identified by teams as first round picks.  Some simple math will tell the story here.

  • Each team gets seven picks that means the basic draft is 224 players.
  • Add in some compensatory picks and maybe the draft class gets as big as 250 or 260 players.
  • The league has invited 324 players to the Combine this year.
  • Ergo, sixty players or so who go to that Combine are not going to be drafted.  Participation in the drills is important and just getting an invitation is important too.

This may sound counter-intuitive, so let me explain my next point.  Everyone seems to think – and I concur – that this is not a vintage year for QBs coming out of college.  Nonetheless, there are several teams in the NFL that need to figure a way to upgrade themselves at the QB position – whether it be the Steelers who lost Ben Roethlisberger to retirement or the Bucs who lost Tom Brady the same way or it be the Panthers or the Broncos or the Commanders who just need significant improvement there.  With the overall impression that this is a less-than-stellar crop of graduating QBs, the workouts and the interviews become even more important than usual for both teams and players.  There have been some significant flameouts in first round QB selections over the years and it sure looks as if there can/will be more this year.

Compare that sort of “problem-solving behavior” with what is ongoing with the MLB negotiations.  After wasting about 6 weeks of potential negotiating time from early December until mid-January and then meeting only perfunctorily until mid-February, the two sides are reported to be “far apart” as an on-time start of the regular season is now in serious jeopardy.  There was a report in the Washington Post yesterday that Commissioner Rob Manfred and Players’ Association Chief, Tony Clark, met with each other for the first time in weeks and what they supposedly decided was that the two sides needed to meet more frequently and for longer periods to hammer out the issues.

  • Pardon my ignorance, but what other possibilities might those two “leaders” have considered as potential avenues to reaching a new CBA?  Maybe they could negotiate some issues via seances?  Maybe they could send messages back and forth via carrier pigeons?

I suspect that neither the owners nor the players fully grasp the degree to which they are alienating fans.  Yes, I know that there are always blowhard fans who swear they will never even watch another game on TV because they are disgusted with the nonsense put out by “billionaires versus millionaires.”  Forget those fans; they are sounding off simply to hear themselves bloviate.  But there is a tone and tenor this time around that is not taking sides in the dispute but that is expressing something along these lines:

  • Baseball as a game has its problems.  The games take too long and there is not enough action in the games to maintain interest for many fans.  There is a cadre of baseball fans who clearly would prefer the league and the players union to focus their efforts on improving the on-field product instead of finding new and different ways to disagree with each other.

When you read a report on the status of the negotiations, take a moment and read some of the comments by folks who comment in terms other than the superlative.  When I try to do that, I come away with the idea that some of those fans are on their way to “abandoning” baseball as their “sport of choice” AND that a major part of the reason for that choosing is the nonsensical  inability of the owners and players to come to an agreement that will allow fans to just enjoy baseball.

Here is some reality:

  • Max Scherzer is one of the more militant players involved in the negotiations.  When all is said and done, he will make more than $40M per year for the next three years to pitch – – or not pitch – – for the NY Mets.  No crocodile tears needed.
  • The LA Dodgers will have a payroll well north of $200M and will not be heading for the poorhouse with about 34,500 fans showing up for every home game.  Notwithstanding what the accountants report on the tax returns and all the reporting is perfectly legal, the LA Dodgers are not “losing money.”
  • The fan in the stands would love to “trade places” with either the players or the owners – – but the vast majority of the fans recognize that they do not have the ability to “trade places” with the players…

Finally, let me close today with an item from Dwight Perry’s column last weekend in the Seattle Times:

“The next time ‘Do you believe in miracles?!’ — coined by Al Michaels 42 years ago last week — will next be uttered when:

  • the Detroit Lions win the Super Bowl

  • baseball owners come out the winners in the players strike

  • the Russians go an entire Olympics without testing positive.”

Or as a fourth possibility:

  • when Rob Manfred throws a surprise birthday party for Tony Clark…

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………