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Countdown to the Draft

Inside the War Room: Behind the scenes

Wed, Apr 24, 2013

By Phil Savage

Here's what goes on at club headquarters ahead of the “Annual Selection Meeting”.


“Inside the War Room”

The term “war room” is actually a misnomer when referring to an NFL team’s “draft room”, however, the idea comes from the fact that the club’s decision-makers do stay back at their respective facilities while a player personnel staff assistant or equipment manager handle the phones “on the front-lines” at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. So what does happen in the “war room” in the days leading up to the draft? Here are a few things on every General Manager’s checklist:


Final Medical Grades

This may be the most important “grade” in the entire draft process. The medical meetings usually take place a few weeks after the Combine and again after the re-checks in early April. If there are questions on any particular prospects, it is not uncommon for the GM to meet with the team doctors and training staff one last time to make the call on a given player. With Tank Carradine, the defensive end from Florida State working out on Monday, he would be a good example of a player being discussed in the 11th hour.


Ultimate Scouts’ Meeting

The GM usually likes to meet the day before the draft with only his player personnel department to give his scouts the opportunity to “speak now or forever hold your peace” about the final draft board. Most clubs have 100-150 names on their draftable board. In Baltimore and Cleveland, the scouts could place a single “red star” on their favorite prospect, not necessarily the best player, but an individual that has a team-first mentality, will work hard and never be a problem off the field. On the other end of the spectrum, the scouts had the option to place a “black dot” on any individual that they simply did not want any part of due to off-field issues or concerns. In other words, the scout is saying to the GM, “if you pick this guy, it’s on you”. One other thing some GM’s will do is allow their scouts to put together their own individual “wish lists” for each round of the draft, kind of their dream scenario for who they would like to add to the team.


Draft Day Game Plan

In the old days, each GM would have to put together a game plan for the first three rounds. Now, with only the 1st Round on Thursday night, the scope is limited to just the first 32 picks. Subsequently, on Friday and Saturday morning, each team can re-assess their thinking and see what the board looks like going into each respective day. But, a typical strategy session will include these questions (as an example, let’s pretend we are the Tennessee Titans picking 10th in the 1st Round):


1. RANK AT LEAST THE NUMBER OF PROSPECTS EQUAL TO YOUR SPOT: Ten prospects are ranked #1 through #10. In case the draft goes

exactly as we have them rated (which is highly unlikely, but can happen), we will have someone to choose if we get locked into the slot.


2. STAYING PUT: Of the ten ranked prospects, we really only think six of them are “elite” with Pro Bowl potential. Therefore, if any of those six are available at #10, we will turn in the card without question, regardless of the prospect’s position.


3. MOVING UP: If a specific prospect in our elite six is still available at #8, we would consider trading a 4th round choice for the spot, and would even go as far as trading our 3rd if it means getting a certain player. We will not give up our 2nd to make a move up, no matter what.


                   4. MOVING DOWN: If all six of our elite ranked prospects are selected or

three or more of them are still available at #10, we will attempt to move down beginning at pick #13. At pick #7, we will begin canvassing the teams at #13 NY Jets, #14 Carolina, #15 New Orleans and #16 St. Louis. (Pre-calls would have already been made to these teams earlier in the week to gauge their interest in trading up).


5. #1 OBJECTIVE: The goal is to end up with one of our six elite prospects in the 1st Round, period. If we cannot get that accomplished, then we will attempt to move back and collect picks in order to be more flexible in the 2nd and 3rd Rounds.


Prospect/Agent Phone Numbers

All contact information must be double-checked prior to the draft, so that there are no problems when the club is trying to reach the player. Every GM wants to make sure the card he is about to turn in has the name of a player who is “alive and well” before making it official. One time in the Canadian Football League, a team drafted a player who literally died several hours before the draft. Awful, but true!


Phone Check

Entry-level staffers are usually charged with making sure the phone lines are functioning and properly connected to the team’s table in New York, the league office table at Radio City and the other 32 clubs’ “war rooms”.


Priority Free Agents

It is never too early to begin recruiting the possible free agent prospects that will not be drafted over the weekend. Each scout is usually assigned a specific position, and along with an assistant coach, they will work together in formulating a targeted list of players. By Saturday night, the GM will have a “budget” for each position, based on what happened in the draft and the current depth chart, so the scouts will know how many players are needed and at what price they can pay. As an example, if a team only needs one tight end, and a rated prospect is still left on the board, the GM may give the scout $15000 to go get him. If there are no quality TE’s left, then the budget may only be $1000 and the scout is expected to find a camp body for that price. Throughout the spring, the scouts are expected to have made contact with these different candidates and built a relationship for this very situation.



Most GM’s want all of the information at their fingertips almost like being in the cockpit of an aircraft. About two hours before the draft, the staff assistants will bring in all of the reports, questionnaires, interviews, a trade chart, post-its, pencils, highlighters and any number of requested items that will put the GM at ease before the big event begins.


When Commissioner Roger Goodell walks to the podium to begin the “Annual Selection Meeting”, as Paul Harvey would say, “now you know the rest of the story."




Phil Savage Phil Savage is the Executive Director of the Senior Bowl. He worked 20 years in the NFL as a coach, scout and executive, including two years as the Director of Player Personnel for the Baltimore Ravens and four years as the general manager of the Cleveland Browns.