It appears that the NFL has blinked in a stare down between the league and agents representing over 150 players invited to the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine. The agents were pushing back on the NFL’s COVID-19 constraints placed on participants of the showcase and were threatening a formal boycott of workout drills and team interviews.
Here’s the full text of the message that just went to players invited to next week’s Combine. pic.twitter.com/HnqeEfDumk— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) February 21, 2022
The conflict began last Saturday when the NFL issued a memo announcing their plans to set up restrictions which intended to protect attending and participating players and their support staffs from COVID-19 infection. Two of the major points of contention were limiting the number players’ support staff to one person and confining attendees to secured areas and venues for the duration of the Combine, with violators being dismissed from activities and banished from the site. If a boycott were to take place, over half of the 324 invitees were reportedly willing to pass up the premier talent evaluation event, scheduled to held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana from March 1-7.
Agents representing more than 150 draft prospects are organizing a boycott of all testing, on-field workouts and interviews at next month’s NFL scouting combine if heavy “bubble” restrictions aren’t changed, sources tell me and @TomPelissero— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 21, 2022
The NFL scouting combine just informed draft prospects they’ll be in a “bubble” in secure locations next month in Indianapolis, with limited exceptions: “Players who violate this policy at any time will be disqualified from further participation and sent home.” From the memo: pic.twitter.com/oThXaLSCQ7— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) February 19, 2022
While the television ratings of the the NFL Combine do not measure up to the Draft, it is still popular with hard-core football fans and is a marketing bonanza for the league and the NFL Network. The league’s acquiescence and the following changes to their original protocols will hopefully avert the disaster of turning this year’s event into a shell of its former self and the possibility of putting its future in question.
In recent years, groups critical of the Combine have become louder in opposition. Critics complain that the workout events are dehumanizing, do not truly measure an athlete’s ability to play NFL football, and some tests are culturally and racially biased. The NFL has answered one of these grievances by removing the Wonderlic test for 2022. The exam has been used by NFL since the 1970s, purportedly to measure cognitive ability.
The vociferous critics that would like to bring on the demise of the Combine have a powerful ally: the NFL Players Association.
Thankfully for now, cooler heads seem to have prevailed and those of us who follow the Combine will get our fill of timings, drills and speculation. In this week of uncertainties, the one thing that cannot be doubted is that players who test well will upgrade their worth and make themselves some money.
So, whether you think the Combine is an integral part of the player evaluation process, a debasing money grab for the NFL and its TV network or simply a pseudo-event posed for a limited fan base of draft geeks and wannabe talent evaluators, two questions remain. Do every day and casual fans really care about the Combine? and would they miss it if no longer held?