News & Analysis

It's time to put the draft in the past

Apr 27, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Mitchell Trubisky (North Carolina) poses with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (right) as he is selected as the number 2 overall pick to the Chicago Bears in the first round the 2017 NFL Draft at Philadelphia Museum of Art. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

(Editor’s note: Every Sunday, we’ll wrap up the week on PFF Fantasy with some topic one of our writers has been thinking about of late, and recap the features, columns, and podcasts you could find on the site that week.)

It’s time for the latest entry in the quasi-annual call from the writer cognoscenti, time for my voice to join the dozens who say that we should abolish the draft.

The fantasy draft? No, not that (though auctions are far superior, so consider that). No, with the NFL draft starting Thursday, with one of the Joshes or a Baker or a touchdown maker going first overall, that’s the draft that needs to be put out to pasture.

Let’s talk about the reasons:

The draft is not and never has been a way to ensure parity. This really isn’t true, in any league. A draft is more a way to keep salaries of young players in check. And even if it is for parity, well … how’s that working out? Has the draft been a particular hangup of the Patriots, Steelers, or Packers in the last decade? Has it seen the Browns jump up into the world of contenders? No, instead, the NFL is famously top-heavy (still, since 2003, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, or Peyton Manning has been the AFC’s Super Bowl quarterback every year but one).

Abolishing the draft would not create superteams. Well, if nothing else, we already by and large have that situation in the league (see the previous paragraph), so what do we have to lose? On top of that, getting rid of a draft would in several scenarios break up the superteam options. Take the Packers. Without a draft, is there any way the Packers could have stashed an up-and-coming Aaron Rodgers for multiple seasons while they waited for the end of the Brett Favre era? No, Rodgers would have joined (looks at the league circa 2004) … maybe the Jets? The Jets went 10-6 and won a Wild Card in 2004 behind Chad Pennington at quarterback. In a bidding war, think Rodgers might have picked that sort of team? Eli Manning wouldn’t have to pout to get dealt to the Giants, he would have just signed there. Does your team need an offensive lineman? No need to hope one falls to you or reach for someone — just bid the most.

(And which is the most notable team to go from the dregs of the league to top performance recently? That would be the Jaguars, who yes, drafted Leonard Fournette and Jalen Ramsey, but their biggest jump came when they splurged on defense in free agency.)

Getting rid of the draft would escalate young players’ salaries. Well, so what? Why are we opposed to the young players making the most? And in time, things would balance out. The winner’s curse — winning an auction means paying the most, which usually means overpaying — is a real thing, but it wouldn’t take much time for such effects to level off, and for mid-priced veteran to suddenly be the new market inefficiency. In the meantime, maybe 10 teams bid on Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson, Sam Darnold, Mason Rudolph this year, and four get left out. Which would you rather be — the team that overpaid dramatically for a bust, or the team that got left out in the cold?

The draft reduces the drama, it doesn’t increase it. Yeah, everybody who talks football talks about the draft. But the most exciting pick is the first one, and the excitement drops off exponentially from there, with only a slight spike in interestingness when there’s an occasional surprising name, and one last little pop for Mr. Irrelevant. You know what has more lasting excitement? Declaration Days and Signing Days. Imagine someone with the showmanship of, say, Jalen Ramsey coming into the league and selecting his team. That dude would have 32 hats on a table and eliminate one a day until he decided. In baseball, Shohei Ohtani came over from Japan last offseason and got to pick his destination, and it was the top news in the sport for more than a week. Imagine that suspense with every single notable college name.

This is only one man’s opinion. Okay, it isn’t, it’s a notion that’s gaining in popularity; I just wanted to make clear that I’m not the Voice of PFF here. The NFL draft doesn’t make sense economically, competitively, or entertainment-ly. Let’s get rid of it and move on.

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