By Juan Lozano | July 6, 2020
NFL teams have received the go-ahead from the league office to start training camp on time. There are going to be some changes to the preseason. Specifically, the preseason schedule has been shortened from four games to two and teams will only be permitted to conduct camp at their facilities.
All of this of course could change.
Fluctuating regional conditions may impact what teams are permitted to do. If there is government involvement that is unfavorable to individual team interests, a league that is obsessed with parity has to make a decision on whether it wants one team practicing while another is forced to limit or shut down operations.
Even if teams do not shut down operations, they will be forced to confront new business realities. Here are some of the ways we think the NFL changes in 2020 and possibly beyond.
We think that the area that will be the most different in 2020 will be player evaluation and the fan experience.
We see these following activities being eliminated or significantly altered in 2020:
Tuesday Workouts of Street Free Agents– Tuesday is generally the player’s off-day in the NFL. The football facility is clear of players on the off-day. This is a day where the player personnel department may bring in free agent players to work out in the hopes of possibly signing them on the spot or to keep in mind for down the road. We are hearing that teams do not plan on having players fly in and work out in the facility. There is too much risk involved. How are teams going to kick the tires on free agents? This is going to be a significant challenge in a year where we can anticipate greater roster composition fluctuations.
College Campus Scouting Activities– In a previous article, we mentioned that scouts are probably not going to be allowed into a college football team’s building. We stand by and double down on that. It will be difficult for NFL teams to obtain information on prospects playing a college season. If college football becomes a spring sport in 2020, evaluating players for a spring 2021 NFL draft becomes that much more difficult.
College All-Star Games– These games occur after the holiday break, when travel and possibly virus exposure will be at its highest. We have to question whether it is wise to bring so many people together (coaches, scouts, players).
The value of these games is not the game itself. Rather, it’s the nearly week-long set of interview sessions and practices. Scouts may have to come up with an alternative to sitting in a room with a prospect and talking football. We anticipate there being a greater number of Zoom calls between prospects and teams.
If college football is played in the spring, are players going to go straight from a season, to all-star games and then a professional football season? Players are going to have very tired legs.
Combine– The essential purpose of the Combine is to evaluate prospects by using standard metrics and to obtain medical information.
The Combine has taken on additional importance in recent years even aside from player evaluation. The Combine has become a place for people in the industry to meet up and talk shop. Increased media attention of the week-long event has also generated some fan interest. There’s just a lot of people in Indianapolis during Combine week.
It’s an important event for sure.
We have a few logistical questions if the Combine does go off according to plan:
- Are team representatives going to be on the field testing with their stopwatches?
- Will the bench press platform be cleaned after each use?
- Will players have interview sessions in close quarters with team representatives?
We anticipate that there will be greater limitations and fewer opportunities for teams to make in-person player evaluations. Thus a player’s game tape is going to be much more important and a bigger part of the evaluation process.
If teams are going to rely more on game tape, there is an increased importance in hiring experienced scouts that do more than just gather information. Teams have to hire a scouting staff that can evaluate and project talent. It takes talent to evaluate talent.
The emphasis on game film will hurt small school players. It will make it harder for them to get noticed. The film quality at the lower levels isn’t as good and the “level of competition” arguments grow louder. (This would be especially true if teams are only permitted to play a conference schedule in 2020. Thus an intriguing prospect will not play against top-flight competition). It’ll be harder for small school prospects to get the benefit of the doubt without the in-person evaluations.
The fan experience will be fundamentally altered as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. These are some of those fan experiences that we think will go away in 2020 and maybe longer.
Open Access During Training Camp– Training camp will be different in 2020. We anticipate that camps will be closed to the public. (Packers fans: We think the days of lining Oneida Street so that children can lend a bike to a player in exchange for getting to carry their helmet are over.) Stadium tours are likely done as well.
Jumping Into The Stands– There may be no fans in the stands. But even if there are some fans, we think we might have seen the last “Lambeau Leap” for awhile.
Pregame– The Dallas Cowboys walk through a fan area to get to the field. We can’t see fans being allowed to be close to the players in Dallas or anywhere else. We don’t think anybody will be allowed on the field that isn’t participating or contributing to the game.
Don’t be surprised at what changes there are in the NFL in 2020. We certainly won’t be.
Opinions expressed are solely of the author and do not express the views or opinions of Headcoachranking.com.