The NFL Draft has become more than just a single event of the NFL offseason. Spring's premier professional sporting event, interest in the draft is a 365 day enterprise these days. It's always been that way for front offices and scouting staffs, but now even the fans and the media are getting into the mix. Outside of the actual players themselves, the draft is an essential part of the business operations of a franchise. Executives work closely with coaches and scouts to make the big draft decision that impact the future of the franchise.
St. Louis Rams Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of Football Operations talked to TST a little more about what goes on behind the scenes with a team and the NFL Draft. We covered everything from rookie salary implications to future cap concerns to those mysterious palindromes for the rookie contract bonuses.
After the jump, our interview with Kevin Demoff.
Are there positions that the Rams philosophically limit the amount they would spend in free agency or consider in a particular draft position?
One of the most important aspects of a good organization is strong communication between the coaching staff and the personnel department. One of the first things the coaching staff did upon arrival was rank each of the positions on offense and defense in order of importance to the scheme. As a result, on each side of the ball we have a ranking of one through eleven that prioritizes what positions are most important to each unit. We tinkered with the rankings when Coach McDaniels came aboard to reflect the changes for his scheme.
Therefore, when evaluating players in the draft or in free agency, we will always try to matchup resource allocation to the priority of the position. You wouldn't take a player at a position ranked 11th in the first round or spend big money on that position in free agency. Conversely, if you had a highly rated position that you felt alright about but had a chance to add another impact player, you might add depth at that position before fixing a position that was ranked 8th or 9th. You are always going to have tradeoffs in how to allocate your resources, and ranking the positions gives a road map on how to make decisions.
Has the new rookie wage scale changed anything for the Rams, with respect to players they prioritize in the draft, reallocating funds for free agency, etc.?
We haven't gone through a new draft with this system, but I imagine the rookie wage scale will increase the number of players a team would consider in the top 10 of the draft. In previous years, it always weighed in the back of our minds that if you drafted a safety, linebacker, interior offensive lineman or tight end that you would be making them not only the highest paid player at the position but you might be paying them $3m or $4m more than the previous highest paid player. The previous system would steer you to a quarterback, defensive lineman, offensive tackle or cornerback because economically those picks somewhat fit into the league salary structure. It won't be as big of a factor outside of the top ten picks because the economics of the first round outside of those picks has not materially been affected.
Do you believe that the new rookie wage system will make teams more willing to trade first-round picks?
I imagine that teams will be more likely to trade into the top ten and within the top ten under the new rookie system because the financial burden has been lessened. As a club, when you evaluate any trade, you have to evaluate the complete compensation that is part of the trade; in this case both the draft picks and the salary paid. To trade for a top 5 pick in the previous system entailed giving up numerous draft picks and paying $10m+ to the player acquired. If you were willing to offer that, you could just as well trade for an established player with that draft package and save money on the contract versus the draft pick. Given the reduction in guaranteed money, I'm inclined to believe trading picks may become more prevalent and that the draft point chart may need to be re-evaluated once again to reflect the new economics.
Player costs are expected to rise with new TV deals in 2014. Will that factor into your decision to extend player contracts, particularly Sam Bradford and some of the other players whose contract expire after 2014?
There are a number of people who expect that the salary cap will begin a steady rise in the next few years, but both the players and the clubs anticipate that so I'm not sure the economics of deals this year and in the future don't already reflect the anticipated rise in the salary cap. What I'm more curious about is whether an increase in the salary cap will lead to rising salaries at all positions or whether top players will continue to command the same percentage of the salary cap as they do currently and the discrepancy between positions will continue to increase. That will be the more important trend to monitor in my opinion.
Why the palindromes in the rookie contract bonuses?
I've always viewed rookie contracts, especially in the later rounds, as an opportunity to strengthen relationships with agents and reinforce the perception of the Rams as a quality organization that agents and players enjoy working with. We try to have fun when we do rookie contracts --giving incentives funny names, sending proposals in haiku -- to differentiate the process so that agents look forward to negotiating with us. The palindromes take some of the "haggling" out of the final signing bonus number because the agents know in advance what the numbers look like and that the deal will be fair. I always want the agent and player to have a good experience in their rookie negotiation because that is the draft pick's first exposure to the organization and you want it to be positive. Paying a few more thousand dollars now may save you a million dollars down the line.
My thanks to Kevin Demoff for answering our questions.