NFL draft moving to May for money, ratings, the Easter bunny

May 25, 2013 

Literary critic H.L. Mencken said, “When somebody says it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.”

In the NFL, it’s that or the TV ratings.

Of course, that’s not what commissioner Roger Goodell is saying about pushing the NFL draft into May, a TV sweeps month. Goodell blamed the move on a scheduling conflict at Radio City Music Hall, which has an Easter show booked for the last long weekend in April next year.

There must be a tooth fairy convention that same weekend at Madison Square Garden, and the numerous other venues in New York suitable for hosting the three-day draft-a-palooza.

Moving the draft to May 15-17 – Mother’s Day weekend – next year means three more weeks of training for prospects, three additional weeks of scouting and hand-wringing for teams and three more weeks of hype for the NFL Network.

The first round of this year’s draft – which fell on the first day of the May sweep – drew huge ratings that dwarfed popular series such as “American Idol” and “The Office.” Add three more weeks of build-up and the ratings should be even higher.

Those sweeps numbers are key to advertisers, who in theory will be willing to spend more money to air their prime-time spots on ESPN and NFL Network, both of which broadcast the draft.

But it’s not about the money.

It’s also about stretching out the NFL’s offseason to the point where the dark period between the draft and the opening of training camps is almost nonexistent.

Who suffers with the new calendar, which is expected to become permanent?

Rookies, for starters.

“They’re going to lose 3 1/2, four weeks of preparation,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said last week. “They’re going to have to come in here and hit the ground running. There’s not going to be any rookie camp where it’s just them, because your time’s going to be so limited. So they’re going to have to come in, get thrown right in the mix with the veterans and try to catch up.

“That’s a hard deal. It really is. We as coaches have to be smart about it. We’ve got to make sure we’re teaching them the right way and we’re bringing things along the proper way.”

Some of those rookies will benefit from the extra month on the front end. If a player is recovering from an injury, he’ll have more time to heal and improve his stock before the draft.

The flip side: Players also will have more time to, say, trash their hotel room in Indianapolis, and drop their stock.

“It’s going to be a little more time to put a little more doubt” in the minds of general mangers and scouts, Rivera said. “Four weeks, you start finding out more things.”

A longtime NFL agent, who represents several players in the NFC South, predicted many teams would suffer “paralysis from analysis,” talking themselves out of a prospect given the extra time to over-think things.

And while fans don’t want to sympathize with agents, the high-profile agents will have the top prospects on their payrolls for an additional month.

Again, it’s about the money. Or as Goodell would have you believe, the Easter bunny.

Chandler changing sides

When I covered South Carolina for The (Columbia) State, former Gamecocks coach Lou Holtz – in addition to his infamous poor-mouthing of opponents – had a tradition of asking players to switch positions. Every spring, Holtz would try to turn a marginal defensive back into a receiver, or a slow defensive lineman into an offensive tackle.

It seldom worked.

That’s why I was fascinated last week to see Rivera trying a similar experiment with Nate Chandler, who is moving from defensive tackle to offensive tackle in his second year.

Chandler has a history of this.

Chandler was one of the nation’s highest-rated tight ends coming out of San Diego, and played there his two first seasons at UCLA. He slid down to offensive tackle, before finishing his Bruins’ career as a defensive tackle.

When the Panthers were scouting Chandler last year, Rivera called UCLA – where Rivera’s daughter is a sophomore on the softball team – and learned Chandler moved to defense to help the Bruins, not because he was a sieve as a blocker.

Chandler played in 10 games for the Panthers last season after being signed as an undrafted free agent. He had five tackles and three quarterback pressures, and recovered a Philip Rivers fumble to set up a touchdown in a Week 15 win at San Diego.

Chandler also was the emergency offensive tackle at the end of the season when several linemen were injured. So when the Panthers drafted defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short with their first two picks, Rivera said it was a logical move to try Chandler on offense.

“You draft two defensive tackles and you sit there and say, ’You know what, this might be a great opportunity for the young man,’” Rivera said.

Offensive line coaches John Matsko and Ray Brown threw Chandler right into the fray. He was at left tackle at Thursday’s OTA session, trying unsuccessfully to keep second-team defensive end Frank Alexander out of the backfield.

“He struggled a little bit today,” Rivera said afterward. “He’s athletic. He’s a very powerful guy. So we’re excited for Nate.”

And he seems to be fitting in with his new linemates. The offensive lineman recently included Chandler on a camping trip, Rivera said.

Three extra points

•  Other than Armanti Edwards, the player that fans ask me about most often is wideout David Gettis, who started as a rookie, blew out his knee in 2011 and played in two games last season. With Brandon LaFell – and now Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn Jr. – ahead of him, Gettis will have a hard time making the team. Ditto Edwards.

•  Rookie offensive lineman Edmund Kugbila, the fourth-round pick from Division II Valdosta State, hurt his leg during phase 2 (mostly individual drills) of OTAs. The injury is not considered serious, but it kept him out of the team drills last week during the third phase of OTAs.

•  I find myself wavering between putting a moratorium on the use of the phrase, “hog mollies,” and printing T-shirts featuring it.

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