Saturday, April 25, 2009

Making the NFL draft more exciting

Continuing my interest in just about everything about football except actually watching games, I was paying attention to the NFL Draft today. It's a pretty exciting big event in its own right these days, but it suffers from one big flaw: number 1 comes first. Far more exciting would be a long build-up, with the top pick coming last. The mechanics of that would be tricky, but I'll take a stab at it. I'll admit that I only know the basics of the draft, but I'm never going to play armchair quarterback, so I'll play armchair whatever this is.

I figure two changes would get most of the way there. The big change is giving prospective players the right to refuse being picked. If Bobo the Back thinks he's second (to last) round material, but gets called in the fourth (to last) round, he can tell them to talk to the palm. The team that got refused doesn't lose their pick completely, but they go to the end of the queue (unless they have other picks in queue). The player is gambling on someone else wanting him more. Just like today, teams get allocated their position in the draft according to how they do, and they can deal and trade those picks in advance to their hearts' content.

What's to keep the system from reverting in practice to the status quo? The other change: putting a collar, especially a ceiling, on pay. Suppose someone picked in the eighth-to-last round has a contract of between $210,000/year and $240,000/year. Matthew Stafford (this year's #1) is going to laugh at that and walk away. But what if he gets called as the 10th-to-last pick in the final round? Does he take the $3.5 million/year - $4.5 million/year range guaranteed to the tenth-to-last pick? Or does he take the chance on someone wanting him more (the contract he actually got has a variable payout of between $6 million/year and $13 million/year)? That makes it more dramatic, and pushes the high value players to the end.

When would it stop? I've been saying second-to-last round and tenth-to-last pick, but there's no reason it actually has to be that way. Maybe it would be better to have no predetermined end. Instead, the teams would keep getting picks. BUT, the minimum salary would keep going up. If a team thought the price too high for the remaining pool of players, they could pass, and the next team in line gets their shot at the pool of players (who can refuse) at the same price. When every team passes at the same price, the draft ends, and everyone goes home. That sounds pretty exciting to me.

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