With the NFL Draft right around the corner on April 23-25, football teams across the country are gearing up to finalize their rosters and are strategizing to prepare for the big weekend. However, the closure of NFL facilities due to the coronavirus pandemic is forcing teams to transform the ways in which they do their pivotal preparations for the draft.
According to ESPN.com, the Saints announced
that they have created a makeshift franchise draft headquarters in the Dixie
Brewing Company facility located in New Orleans East. The newly reopened
brewery is owned by team owner Gayle Benson and will serve the team's coaches
and management staff as long as social distancing efforts are still in place,
which will continue even beyond the time of the draft.
Currently, only six to seven people are physically working at the headquarters, including head coach Sean Payton, General Manager Mickey Loomis, and Assistant General Manager Jeff Ireland. Payton is still on the mend from his coronavirus diagnosis two weeks ago but has since been cleared to begin working and interacting with others again. All other relevant staffers, like scouts and position coaches, join the others at the brewery via video conference. Those at the brewery are careful to adhere to CDC guidelines, with Payton noting that everyone has their temperature taken upon arrival, and the few people in the space are always spread far apart from one another.
"The facility is fantastic," Payton said. "There's no one out here. We have our board set up; we've got seven monitors. We're certainly distanced away from each other. There's plenty of space. And then, the monitors have all the scouts and everyone else, so the total people in the meeting might be 20."
Although the Saints seem to have a handle on their draft operation, Payton noted that the lack of physical communication with prospective players makes it more difficult to make decisions, particularly regarding players who might bring about questions surrounding their eligibility and performance.
"There's probably more unchecked boxes this year for teams than normal because that month of March after the combine was eliminated," said Payton. "In the normal schedule, you might fly that player in and investigate the data a little bit more, the injury a little bit more. If it was a character concern, you might bring that player in or go to the school and spend more time. You may not be able to clarify or clean up some of the question marks that you normally would each year."
Payton added that this readjustment will likely impact the way in which the Saints make their critical draft decisions, noting, "You might be more conservative, relative to aversion to taking a risk, if you don't have the information you're looking for."
Although the adjustment is certainly a large one, the Saints coach appears confident that players will continue to work hard to prepare for the new season. "These are all paid professionals," said Payton. "These guys are all going to understand the importance of taking care of their body. Certainly, it's easier when they're at your facility, but clearly, with where we're at today, most all of them are at home with their families where they should be."