Imagine an NFL without a player draft. Imagine an NFL that recruits players like colleges.

I’ll admit it is difficult to question the way the NFL does business. No sports endeavor has ever been as successful as the NFL. It dominates the American sports landscape. Regular-season games generally draw two and three times the TV audience of post-season games in Major League Baseball and the NBA. TV numbers for college football championship games would be considered horrible by NFL standards.

I get it. If it ain’t broke don’t try and fix it.

So let’s just imagine . . .

How would the NFL be different without a player draft? Would the majority of the players flock to the biggest cities? Would franchises in such cities as Jacksonville, Buffalo, Green Bay, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Nashville and Charlotte become extinct? Would the NFL’s incredible competitive balance be thrown out of whack?

I don’t think so. In fact, I think there’d be more competitive balance. And, yes, it would be a flag-waving salute to the free enterprise system. Can I say it would be the true American way?

Allow me to start right there with the free enterprise system. I know the argument that if you wanted to work for Microsoft, for example, you’d be told where you’d have to live. “The opening is in our office in Chicago,” you’d be told. “Take it or leave it.” The difference, of course, is you have the choice of applying for a job with Apple.

As for the majority of players flocking to the biggest cities, I don’t buy that. To the contrary, I think players would be more likely to go where they have the best chance to play immediately and, thus, make more money quicker. Does any stud quarterback coming out of college really want to go to New England? Indianapolis? New Orleans? San Diego? All of the franchises in those cities have established, superstar quarterbacks. How many highly-regarded running backs would want to go to Minneapolis and watch Adrian Peterson carry the ball? I’d guess potentially star left offensive tackles would shy away from Cleveland (Joe Thomas) and Miami (Jake Long). Those scenarios are comparable to the blue chip high school QBs saying “thanks, but no thanks” to the Florida Gators when Tim Tebow was an undergraduate? It’s the same situation as far as I’m concerned.

Players want to play and play immediately. The best recruiting pitch to a prospect is a chance to start immediately. I don’t think it’s any different going from college to the NFL — except for the money, of course, and in some cases the NFL money isn’t all that much more than some colleges pay. (That’s a joke, I hope.)

And do the majority of players really want to live in New York or Chicago or Miami?

Clearly there’s an appeal to living in the big cities for some players, particularly the bachelors. More restaurants. More women (or men, to be politically correct). More nightlife. But what about the players who prefer golfing, hunting and fishing to nightclubs? What about married players with children? What about the costs of living difference. I remember Tony Boselli, the former Jaguar great, talking about moving his family to Southern California where he played college ball. He and his wife, Angi, looked at houses there and realized they could buy/build a similar house in North Florida for about one-third the price. They chose a house in a gated golf community in Ponte Vedra Beach and have made North Florida their home ever since. You might be surprised by the number of players and coaches — and not only former Jags — who live here.

Then there’s the weather. Sun Belt cities from coast to coast are growing. Northern cities are shrinking. It’s cold up there. As for playing, how many quarterbacks would prefer quarterbacking in, say, Chicago, rather than San Diego, Tampa or, yes, Jacksonville.

There is concern that the NBA is headed toward a day when most of the stars want to play in the bigger cities. LeBron James waved goodbye to Cleveland for Miami. Carmelo Anthony couldn’t wait to leave Denver for New York City. The NBA is a different animal than the NFL. There are far fewer players. One or two players can flip an NBA team’s record much easier than they can an NFL team’s record. There are cultural differences as well. The vast majority of NBA players are black and there’s a large group of foreign players. Bigger cities offer more diversity. The appeal is understandable.

Another argument that the big city franchises would dominate in a draft-less NFL is they offer more media exposure and business opportunities for the players. To a degree yes, but it’s a much smaller advantage than it was 20, maybe even 10, years ago. No longer do players have to be in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles to get exposure and endorsements. One bit of proof is how little not having a NFL team in Los Angeles has hurt the NFL. In this age of the internet, hundreds of cable TV channels, satellite radio and the social media, nearly every visual and spoken word goes worldwide instantly. Joe Namath needed to be in New York in the ‘60s; Peyton Manning hasn’t missed one opportunity because he lives in Indianapolis. Brett Favre’s celebrity didn’t suffer because he was in Green Bay. Maurice Jones Drew is a national face of the NFL playing in Jacksonville

Bigger markets do have an advantage when it comes to local revenues. The Giants get considerably more for their “local” TV-radio deal than the Jaguars, for example. The Cowboys national appeal earns them millions of more dollars in “local” sponsorships than the Bengals get in Cincinnati. But as long as there is revenue sharing of TV and national sponsorships dollars and a salary cap in the NFL, franchises such as Green Bay and New Orleans can continue to compete – and beat – with teams in the largest markets.

Okay, it’s time to quit imagining because the NFL draft isn’t going away. It’s too comfortable for the teams. The only way to get rid of the draft is through the courts and that route probably would fail. (Judges and politicians like their free luxury suite seats. Besides, they don’t want to tick off their constitutions.)

It would take a college player to fight the system and that would, no doubt, ruin his potential career. Remember when Curt Flood went to court with Major League Baseball to gain free agency for the players.

Flood won the case. He also died penniless.

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Comments
  1. The Real Guru says:

    Very interesting take on the NFL draft or lack thereof.

    However, one major blunder. Judges and politicians have constituents to worry about ticking off, not constitutions.

    • lammatlarge says:

      Sure they have constituents, but if they’re not worrying about the constitution, we’ve got bigger problems!

      You’re right. Blunder. Not a “major” one, though.

      Here’s your “major” blunder. You call me out on a mis-type, but you don’t tell me where I’m wrong in my take. You have to do better than that.

      • The Real Guru says:

        The lack therof is referring to your proposal of no draft, not on your interesting take. I said it was very interesting and now i will add very thought provoking. Good job!!

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