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Four Tech Tips to Help NFL GMs Ace the Remote Draft

How many computer screens do you need? How many IT guys should be in the RV in your driveway?

Ringer illustration

In theory, NFL draft night should be minimally affected by the massive societal changes required to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Sure, the event will no longer take place in Las Vegas, but that mostly only ruins the league’s apparent plans to transport players to a floating stage by boat. And while commissioner Roger Goodell will no longer be able to shake players’ hands when they get drafted, nobody is able to shake anyone’s hand these days. Besides, all of that is just for show—the actual process of NFL franchises selecting players was initially done in a hotel ballroom without TV cameras, and can presumably now be done remotely.

Teams already have dozens of hours of game tape on most available prospects, plus a wide array of physical measurements and testing drill results. In years past, it’s not like front office personnel met up in a central location; they went to their respective franchise headquarters and telephoned their choices in to the NFL. The only difference this year is that those general managers, scouts, and coaches must also communicate remotely before reaching a decision and informing the league.

And yet, the notion of completing the 2020 draft online has driven NFL decision-makers to the brink. Seahawks GM John Schneider has destroyed part of his home to install better internet:

Meanwhile, the Lions commissioned an IT guy to sit in a Winnebago in GM Bob Quinn’s driveway, so that he can remain socially distanced while also having the ability to sprint into Quinn’s house to fix technical issues at a moment’s notice:

And when the NFL held a mock draft on Monday—yes, this really happened—it was riddled with technical issues:

Guys, this isn’t hard. The rest of us have been doing fantasy football drafts remotely for years, and it’s pretty easy. (Well, not always.) You just press a button on your computer or say a name aloud, and just like that you select the football player you want.

To help NFL GMs on their virtual adventure, I’ve put together a list of four tips to make the 2020 draft a success. Consider this the Football Guy’s guide to using the internet.

For the Love of All That Is Holy, Press Mute

Last week, ESPN’s Kevin Seifert wrote an FAQs piece laying out most of the nitty-gritty details involved with making this draft happen. Each team will reportedly have three people enabled to submit decisions to the NFL, and if technological issues prevent all three from submitting a pick, the famous draft countdown clock can be stopped as everyone figures things out. For the most part, this process sounds simple. However, one detail included in Seifert’s breakdown shook me to my core:

“All 32 teams will be connected via one video conference, through a modified Microsoft Teams application, and will have a separate broadband connection with members of the league office.”

So just to clarify: At least one important representative from every team in the league will be on the same video conference call, together, at all times. Monday’s mock draft was a dry run of this call—and that seemed to go poorly enough. But it’s important to remember that everybody on that leaguewide conference call will also be on their own team-specific conference calls as people try to determine each pick.

I already know how this ends. At least once during the 255 picks of the draft, someone will forget to hit mute on the league call while discussing classified team information with their colleagues. I simply cannot imagine a world in which each of the league’s 32 GMs remembers to successfully mute every time they toggle back and forth between the calls. Sure enough, during Monday’s mock draft, muting was a problem:

This outcome seems so inevitable that I cannot fathom how the NFL settled on this setup. Spare the jokes about Bill Belichick hacking into the league’s mainframe to get insider info—some GM is going to accidentally broadcast his strategy to the rest of the league without any foul play.

Use Between Two and 11 Monitors

We’ve gotten a few glimpses into the draft-night setups of league decision-makers, and it appears there are two schools of thought.

Broncos general manager John Elway has eight screens we can see. 49ers GM John Lynch has at least seven, and I think I spot a corner of an extra laptop on the left side of his table and a hint of a fourth television mounted to the right of his painting of The Catch. Chargers GM Tom Telesco has five laptops, a monitor, a big-screen TV, and a stuffed moose wearing a Lance Alworth jersey. (Risky move using individual laptops instead of a bunch of monitors—the ultimate irony would be a team called the Chargers missing out on a pick because their GM’s battery died.)

What could all of these screens possibly be for? I’m trying to figure it out:

1. The team draft board
2. The conference call with the league
3. The conference call with the team’s brain trust
4. A live feed of the draft broadcast
5. A second draft board with more information?
6. … Twitter?
7. One of the fake social media services Belichick has invented, like SnapFace or InstantChat

However, we’re only scratching the surface of draft screen possibilities. Enter Seahawks GM Schneider:

Twenty-five screens??? What is this—Oregon’s game plan with Justin Herbert at QB? Now I get why Schneider had to rip out some walls in his house. He needed to install the requisite cables to set up Morgan Freeman’s mega-surveillance system from The Dark Knight.

On the other side of the spectrum is Giants GM Dave Gettleman:

Gettleman is a minimalist, as you can tell from his single piece of wall art. His setup matches that aesthetic: He has one laptop, a couple of massive binders, and some bottles of hand sanitizer and moisturizer. The Giants are absolutely going to miss a pick because Gettleman loses track of the tab with the Giants’ draft board after his screen gets filled with pop-ups when he clicks a promoted Facebook link for a weight loss supplement that doctors just won’t tell you about.

Confine Your Family Members

When it’s time for a virtual draft, it’s important to let everybody in your life know that you can’t be disturbed—after all, you have to yell some players’ names into a screen. Yet bothering you isn’t the only way family members can wreak havoc on a draft. Some NFL execs were apparently constrained by internet bandwidth issues during Monday’s mock exercise, and believe their kids’ streaming and gaming habits were to blame.

During the actual draft, GMs must go a step further, forcing their families to perform offline activities like watching cable television or playing board games. (What is this, the 20th century?) Bears GM Ryan Pace thought he circumvented the problem by hooking his computer directly into a router with an incredibly long extension cord—only to be foiled when his wife unplugged a cable.

I’m starting to suspect that NFL GMs are going to make their families stay with the company IT guys in a Winnebago for the duration of the draft.

Discover How to Transmit Smell Remotely

We have five senses, but modern technology has figured out how to communicate only two of them to people who aren’t present. We can see things that happen in other places thanks to video, and we can hear things that happen in other places thanks to audio. But we can’t smell, taste, or feel things that happen in other places—which could be a real problem for Gettleman. As Gettleman said in a predraft press conference:

“Obviously, when we would go to workouts, a lot of times the night before, our coach and scout that would be at the pro day would take one, two, or three of the players out to dinner and have some conversation that way. We’re losing the personal touchpoints. We have the visual touchpoint, but we’re really missing out on the personal touchpoint, when you can smell or feel a guy.”

In a normal environment, Gettleman would be able to meet prospects in person and draft those who emit the most irresistible pheromones. But as he sits in his sad den with his sad laptop in front of his sad picture of Charlotte, he is hopeless. He’ll have to wait until this fall to learn whether his players have the powerful musks that determine their NFL success.

If the 2020 draft runs smoothly, we’ll learn that lots of seemingly important parts of the process aren’t actually essential. But right now, the idea of this draft running smoothly feels unfathomable; we’re more likely to get Jon Gruden accidentally telling the league about the Raiders’ classified info while Dave Gettleman furiously tries to shove his nose into his computer’s USB ports. Whether that says more about the draft itself or the people who have been hired to make decisions for billion-dollar corporations, I don’t know. I just know that I can’t wait to watch.