The NFL will have shipped 1,856 of its draft hats across the country by Thursday night, when the first round of a truly unique draft begins. That’s 32 hats for the 58 prospects who were also sent camera kits to set up in their homes so the rest of the world can see their reaction to being picked.
Those hats will allow us a little respite of normalcy next week.
It’ll, honestly, feel a little comforting to see Joe Burrow put on a Bengals hat early Thursday night (assuming the Bengals don’t blow it and draft someone else). Even if Burrow isn’t shaking Roger Goodell’s hand and walking across a grand stage in Las Vegas, that image of your team’s new player wearing that draft day hat will still materialize, at least.
This promises to be the weirdest NFL draft, like you’re multiplying the Laremy Tunsil bong picture by a factor of a thousand and then doing everything at home. Goodell is going to be in his basement. Cameras will be trained on every team’s coach and general manager to make sure they stay at home and don’t defy the league (and more importantly, CDC) and sneak out to their team facility.
A cardboard cutout isn’t gonna work, unless it’s of Mayor Lightfoot standing with her arms folded reminding you to stay the (expletive) home.
“Making sure that things are competitively equitable was critical and was, kind of beyond health, the strong No. 2,” Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s executive vice president of events and club business development, said. “That’s where we landed in the places in everybody in their individual homes and consistency across the board. So you’ll see a lot of consistency there, consistency of a camera being in both the GM and head coach’s homes, so you’ve got full transparency there in terms of what’s going on there.”
It was important for the NFL to still hold its draft, even as the entire country is shut down amid the COVID-19 pandemic. O’Reilly said there were to key factors for proceeding with the draft: First, to allow the NFL to set an example for the “right behavior,” as in: Staying home unless it is absolutely necessary. It it not absolutely necessary for NFL personnel to conduct the drafts in person, even if there’s surely been grousing from some of the league’s less-than-adaptable Football Guys or whining from coaches/GMs who really, really, really don't want to draft this way.
But also, as O’Reilly said, the draft can be a bit of an escape. It’s easy to get wrapped up in all the horrific, troubling news about the virus and the impact it's having on human life and our economy. Wondering where Tua Tagovailoa will go or why the heck Ryan Pace made this or that draft pick will be nice to focus on for a few days.
“It’s challenging,” O’Reilly said. “The fact that everybody is in there own homes and it’s different in terms of insuring technology and everything works, but overall, I think people have been fantastic in recognizing that there’s a broader, more important element here.”
And the league may take some of what it’s doing with this year’s draft and use it whenever the next “normal” draft will be. O’Reilly said the NFL usually invites 20-25 prospects to the draft and then has cameras in a handful of other players’ homes. But this year, 58 players will get those kits. That means there’s a good chance whoever the Bears pick at No. 43 and No. 50 (if they stay in those spots) will get to don the Bears’ draft hat on TV. That’s pretty cool.
This year’s draft, though, is going to be weird. But at least there’s going to be a draft.
And hats. You gotta have the hats.