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Six Essential Takeaways From the NFL’s First Remote Draft

Roger Goodell is ready for a nap. Plus, is a dog the mastermind behind the Patriots dynasty?

ESPN/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

I tuned in to the NFL draft this weekend expecting a Draftpocalypse. The run-up to this year’s event was filled with speculation about disasters that could unfold as decision-makers worked remotely while social distancing. The league’s mock exercise was apparently a glitch-filled mess. Teams went to extremes to prevent technological issues from happening. People were ripping up walls to hook up computers and positioning IT guys in Winnebagos in their driveways!

Then the draft came and … everything went smoothly. I wanted to watch commissioner Roger Goodell panic after a team missed its first-round pick because Giants general manager Dave Gettleman clicked a link in an email chain and somehow infected the entire league with malware. Instead, every pick was made in a timely fashion, ESPN made a massively complicated telecast seem easy, and most of the NFL’s coaches and GMs seemed to enjoy sharing quality time with their families. What a disappointment!

Still, the 2020 draft was perhaps the most entertaining I’ve ever watched because we got to peek inside the homes of those coaches and general managers. For example, we found out that Kliff Kingsbury lives like this:

There’s no consensus on whether Kingsbury lives in the house from Parasite, Ex Machina, or 50 Shades of Grey. I guess the commonality is that somebody is likely being held there against their will.

This will probably be the last at-home draft—the NFL likes proving that it can get hundreds of thousands of people to stand outside in cities across the country for an event that isn’t even real football, so we can probably expect the league to revert to its traveling roadshow format in years to come. So what did we learn from our glimpse into the lives of the NFL’s power brokers? Here are six key takeaways:

Roger Goodell Is Not Built for Endurance

Have you ever watched the 2009 movie Moon? It follows a character played by Sam Rockwell who lives on the moon as an employee of a mining company—only to discover that he isn’t alone. There’s another man on the moon who looks exactly like him. They realize that they are clones, and that they have a planned obsolescence of three years. As the older clone approaches his sell-by date, he rapidly deteriorates. With each passing scene, he looks worse for wear and has picked up a new ailment.

I suspect we may have witnessed something similar with Goodell over the weekend. You’ll notice that we rarely see much of the NFL commissioner. He pops up a few times a year at big events: handing out the trophy at the Super Bowl, showing up at a handful of marquee games, giving exactly one fussy press conference per season. It’s not entirely clear what he does in between those appearances, so I assume that Goodell is actually a series of clones built to function for precisely 36 hours at a time.

In most NFL drafts, Goodell announces all of the first-round picks and then quickly disappears. This year, however, many of the planned festivities were canned, including the parade of NFL alumni and diehard fans who typically announce the picks on Day 2. So Goodell was responsible for announcing each pick in the first three rounds—all 106 of them—from his home. At the beginning of the draft, we got Regular Roger Goodell: rigid, haughty, and dressed like a senator’s son. He tried a few jokes about how he usually gets booed at the draft, and made a big show of faux-interacting with fans teleconferencing into a television screen behind him.

By midway through the first round, though, Goodell was already showing signs of wearing down. He changed into something more comfortable, ditching his blazer for a sweater:

On Day 2, Goodell went straight for a quarter-zip:

Goodell’s tone was notably duller on Friday than it was on the first night; his repartee with the beamed-in fans became more and more forced. While he didn’t pull another costume change, he soon became too weary to stand. He finished the night reading picks from a leather recliner:

On Day 3, Goodell showed up without a dress shirt, wearing just a polo. He didn’t have the energy for Saturday’s four-round marathon, handing off pick-announcing duties to NFL chief football administrative officer Dawn Aponte. The next time we saw Goodell, roughly five hours later, he was down to a T-shirt.

Goodell slogged through a brief interview with ESPN’s Trey Wingo, claiming he’d been doing housework instead of announcing the picks. At that point, the contrast between Goodell and Wingo was telling. Wingo had been on air for roughly 15 hours over the past three days, interacting with dozens of analysts and executives in one of the most complex broadcasts in sports history, and seemed unfazed. Goodell, on the other hand, had been asked to talk once about every 10 minutes, and was so thoroughly defeated by the task that his skin took on the appearance of canned meat. I can’t even imagine what would happen if Goodell were asked to host NFL RedZone for a day. I think he’d crumble into dust by the afternoon slate.

But Goodell’s Toys Are Apparently Restless

While Goodell himself was rendered stationary by the brutal task of occasionally having to read names off of a notecard, at least one resident of his household showed alarming mobility: his Mike Ditka bobblehead. When Goodell announced that the Packers were picking tight end Josiah Deguara with the 94th pick, the bobblehead (just below the right edge of the television) was facing forward:

But a few picks later, Ditka had turned sideways:

And a few picks after that, Ditka was facing forward again:

I have three possible explanations here:

  • Goodell (or a cameraman) was moving the bobblehead in between picks. We never saw Goodell shuffle from his mark while standing or emerge from his seat after he plopped in his recliner, but it’s entirely possible that he was adjusting the bobblehead off camera. Perhaps Goodell was fidgeting with the toy as a nervous tic; perhaps he was leaving the audience an Easter egg to find.
  • The bobblehead movement was a continuity error, much like how a wall in Pulp Fiction features bullet holes before any bullets are fired. Maybe Goodell’s segments were filmed non-sequentially, explaining why the bobblehead was in the same position for the 94th and 103rd pick, but not for some picks in between. When the editors stitched it all together, they may have failed to notice the bouncing bobblehead. Of course, this theory presupposes that Goodell filmed his segments ahead of time, which suggests that the live broadcast of the draft is a sham, and that we are sheep for believing the spectacle. Whatever, I kinda needed it anyway.
  • THE DITKA BOBBLEHEAD IS ALIVE! The Ditka moved around when Goodell was off camera, but locked in place as soon as the cameras started rolling, because he’s a toy and toys can’t move when people are watching. The Ditka bobblehead is like Buzz Lightyear with revolutionary defensive strategies and terrible opinions.

Adam Gase’s Son Should Be the Jets Head Coach

Adam Gase has never struck me as particularly smart. Diligent? Yes, worryingly so. Rich? Yes, he wants us all to know that. But smart? No, that’s not a word I’ve used to describe a coach who has never succeeded when not working directly with Peyton Manning.

During the draft, the cameras showed Gase with his children, one of whom was working on a Rubik’s Cube:

About 10 picks after that appearance, the Jets picked again, and cameras returned to Gase’s home—and revealed his son had defeated the cube.

Some would argue that completing a Rubik’s Cube is not actually that difficult—you just have to learn a series of algorithms that allow you to complete it. Oh, yeah, committing a series of algorithms to memory—that simple thing everybody does. It’s as easy as (memorizing) pi!

Should Gase’s child be the head coach of the Jets? Could he unlock Sam Darnold’s potential as quickly as he unlocked the cube? It’s possible that Gase’s kid only made it look like he had completed the cube by swapping in a fresh one between picks. Honestly, that would be the most deceptive ploy drawn up by a member of the Gase family in some time. Put him in charge and the Jets go 10-6.

The Architect of the Patriots Dynasty Is a Dog

Over three days and roughly 18 hours of draft coverage, exactly one NFL coach or general manager made a good joke. If you would’ve set odds before the event, the least likely person to deliver it would have been Bill Belichick, whose complete lack of interest in entertaining others is as legendary as his record. He doesn’t dress to impress (he just wears the hoodie), he doesn’t speak at length unless it’s absolutely necessary (or unless he’s been asked about punters), and he doesn’t smile (unless he’s screwing with the Jets). The only thing resembling a joke Belichick has publicly made is his comment that there are social media services called “SnapFace” and “InstantChat,” and he’s made it enough times that I think he might actually believe it.

But during the second round of the draft, Belichick successfully executed a high-level gag. As the Patriots were about to pick, the camera cut to Belichick’s house, and instead of a grumpy old coach, we saw a dog:

Belichick might not be big on humor, but apparently learned from football that misdirection is effective. He successfully made it appear as if a Klee Kai was the mastermind behind the Patriots operation. The dog Did His Job on this play, sitting in front of Belichick’s laptops until the pick was on the board. Of course, the pick was a safety from a Division II school, prompting the world to wonder whether Belichick’s dog also spends time grinding obscure low-level college tape. But Belichick soon revealed the ruse by returning to the screen and giving his dog, Nike, a treat.

Although Belichick has seemed immune to human experiences like “joy” and “emotion,” he loves this damn dog. You can tell because he agreed to let someone interview him on his day off. He doesn’t even like people to interview him on his days on!

The Moms of Top Offensive Linemen Know How to Block

Despite ESPN installing cameras in 58 prospects’ homes, we didn’t get much face time from this year’s prospects. Suzy Kolber interviewed Joe Burrow after the Bengals took the quarterback with the first pick, but otherwise the broadcast was largely devoid of conversations with the draftees. The only input they had came when the network cut to shots of them celebrating in the moments after they were selected.

During those brief snippets, though, we learned that the top offensive line prospects didn’t just learn how to block from coaches—they were taught by the women who raised them. When the Titans took Isaiah Wilson with the 29th pick, his mom secured the pocket by removing Wilson’s apparent girlfriend from a too-long hug. (I don’t think Wilson has confirmed his relationship with the hugger, but it’s probably not a blood relative!)

And when the Cardinals drafted Houston’s Josh Jones in the third round, his mom protected his blind side by preventing a well-wisher from swooping in (check the 20-second mark):

These mothers weren’t going to let somebody else steal the moment when their children achieved their dreams. More than that, the moms’ top-notch protective instincts probably helped make their kids so great at protecting quarterbacks in the first place.

Family Time Can Be Good!

I was surprised by how casual most of the coaches’ setups were during the draft. Instead of bedraggled coaches in football-centric shelters, we saw coaches pleasantly enjoying the presence of their families. (OK, it does look like Matt Nagy spent draft weekend in a football-centric shelter, but even he was hanging out with his family there.)

While the NFL will probably move back to a conventional draft format next year, this year proved it doesn’t have to. Everyone was perfectly capable of performing their jobs remotely, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching league decision-makers in their homes. Maybe it was the novelty, or maybe the lack of other sports options, but I watched almost every hour of this draft and I genuinely enjoyed it.

The coaches and GMs seemed to enjoy it, too. On Sunday, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the past month has made league executives reconsider whether they need to spend the entire predraft process working 18-hour days at team headquarters and jetting around the country to attend pro days:

There are some flaws to drafting completely from home. Prospects have a tendency to provide inaccurate testing results, and teams overlook a lot of small-school players who might have gone higher in prior years. (Only nine FCS prospects were selected, which seems to have been the fewest ever.) But considering that massive amounts of information are available on most prospects—dozens of hours of game tape, NFL combine results, interview footage, etc.—do executives really need to spend all of March and April grinding? After spending significant time with their families for what may be the first time in their coaching careers, they think they may be missing out.

Or maybe Belichick is just lulling everybody into a false sense of security. By making a big show of hanging out with his dog, Belichick seemed to promote the idea that coaches would be happier working from home. Next year, when the rest of the league’s coaches and GMs are building lasting bonds with their families, Belichick will rebuild the Patriots dynasty with all the top sleepers from Division III colleges. You fools.