These are unusual times we're all dealing with due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the NFL and its 32 teams have had to make adjustments of their own in preparation for next week's virtual NFL Draft.
Normally, Lions GM Bob Quinn, his staff and the Lions' coaching staff would have crisscrossed the country evaluating prospects at pro days and then hosted 30 prospects in Allen Park as part of their evaluation of players heading into the draft.
While Quinn and Co. took part in a few pro days before the league shut them down, they've had to make considerable changes to the evaluation process since, but not all the change has been for the worse.
Quinn usually divvies up the players they want to evaluate in person between himself, his staff, and head coach Matt Patricia. He still did that, they just had to do those evaluations virtually.
"The coaches did a lot of Zoom calls – we had our normal Top 30 list that we wanted to bring in to Detroit, we just transformed that into a 30 visit Zoom with myself, Coach (Patricia), Kyle (O'Brien, Vice President of Player Personnel), Lance (Newmark, Director of Player Personnel) and the coordinators," Quinn said. "So we have six, seven, eight people on that Zoom with the top players."
The one benefit to come out of this new reality of evaluating players virtually is that normally the league restricts those visits to 30 players at team facilities. When doing them through Zoom or Facetime, the rules have been relaxed, and teams have been able to do more than 30.
"So we actually took advantage of that and did probably more than we normally do," Quinn said. "The difference being, these Zoom calls, these FaceTime calls can only be an hour long based on league rule. So you normally have a guy at your facility for say six or seven hours, so these are different. You have to condense it, work through the technology of watching film with a guy and talk to him about scheme, but I think we did a good job of organizing that."
Quinn was quick to credit his staff, the scouting staff and the player development department for organizing those calls and making sure they ran smoothly. He also praised Detroit's IT team. They had a daily schedule they went through, starting in the morning, and did six or seven every day, ending just a couple days ago.
It's certainly not ideal, but Detroit and the other 31 teams have worked within the parameters laid out by the league, and Quinn was confident he and his team have put in the work and readied themselves as best they can for the start of next week's draft.
As for the draft itself, the NFL and the 32 clubs will have a dry run on Monday to make sure all of the communication systems between the league and the clubs are working as expected. In a conference call Friday afternoon, NFL spokesman Brain McCarthy said the league will have the ability to pause the draft and stop the clock at any point if a team experiences any technical issues, but there are multiple backup systems in place. Three different people within an organization can make a pick or trade for a team if there is a problem at one particular location.
This will be a totally virtual draft, with GMs, coaches and front-office personnel conducting the draft from their individual homes. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will also be at his residence announcing the picks for teams the first two days of the draft.
"I'm at my house, I have a home office that I use occasionally during the season and occasionally during the offseason – not very much – but I'm staring at a T.V. to my right," Quinn said of his setup at home. "I have three monitors to my left, I have two laptops. I have a huge, what we would call our 'draft phone,' I have my home phone. I have two cell phones, and I have a printer."
There's no way to replicate draft boards that teams set up at their facilities. Quinn said those will be emailed, printed and screen-shared on some platform. There are backups for internet, backups for power and backups for phones at every location.
"Obviously within the last week or so, I've gotten more stuff delivered to my house for technology, just for the draft itself, and some of that stuff is being tested over the next couple days with the League – in terms of the camera that's going to be here and all those things," Quinn said. "I think big-picture-wise, we're in a good spot technology-wise. We're going to do a couple internal tests and trial runs here. The League is having a mock draft, mock trial run on Monday that we'll participate in."
Executive vice president of club business and league events Peter O'Reilly said in a conference call Friday that this is a complicated process, but the NFL is uniquely positioned to handle it.
"The reason we can move forward with the draft, unlike a game, is that ultimately it's one big conference call, even in a normal year," he said. "So, each team will have their own communication chain where GM, coach, owner, player personnel folks will be having the conversation using multiple platforms and redundancy to do that, video conference phone and otherwise.
"They'll make the decision in terms of, 'we want to pick player X' and then we have a very clear process of that being communicated into our player personnel folks, who'll also be located in their homes. There will be one open conference call, which is one means of doing that, we also are using a partner platform Microsoft Teams and their functionality to connect all of the clubs and relay that information to the central hub on the league side, and there are other redundancies beyond that on the email side."
While many things surrounding the lead-up to the draft and the draft itself will be different, the core process of a team deciding who they are going to select and communicating that to the league is not really much different.