Compared to other franchises, the New England Patriots have always had a smaller war room on draft day: only the top level of the organization — from ownership to front office to the scouting department — were usually present during the NFL’s college player selection meeting. This approach might come in handy for the Patriots this year, considering that the league has just mandated its 32 franchises to alter their usual draft procedures.
In light of the Coronavirus outbreak, and in accordance with U.S. government standards imposed to counter it, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to the teams informing them that they will have to conduct the draft, which takes place on April 23-25, from outside their normal facilities. Furthermore, he advised working in separate locations rather than just gathering in a different facility and running business as usual from there.
The memo had to say the following about this decision (via Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot):
Given current and expected conditions, and to ensure that we operate responsibly and in full compliance with current regulations, both League and Club facilities will remain closed indefinitely. We will reopen facilities when it is safe to do so based on medical and public health advice, and in compliance with government mandates.
Because of these circumstances, Clubs have been advised to prepare to conduct the 2020 Draft entirely outside of their facilities and in a fully virtual format, with club personnel in separate locations and able to communicate with one another and Draft headquarters by phone or internet.
The memo comes as a natural follow-up to steps previously taken by the NFL. The league already canceled public events that were scheduled to take place around the draft in Las Vegas back in early March, and later that same month opted to shut down all team facilities with only a few exceptions. Turning the draft into a virtual event is therefore the logical next development, and one that likely may not force teams to adjust any preexisting plans.
The NFL also sent another memo earlier this week, this one addressed to the players and informing them about the dos and do not dos of offseason work before team workouts that are currently indefinitely postponed are officially kicked off again. The ground rules include the following and are basically an extension of the phase one workout rules that are in place during normal offseasons as well (via ESPN’s Brookie Pryor):
Players cannot participate in club supervised workouts, practices, meetings, film study, or playbook study with any coach, either in person or virtually.
Player activities cannot be supervised or directed by any coach, but a Strength and Conditioning coach may call players to determine what type of training equipment they player may have available. [...] The Strength and Conditioning staff may send the player exercise equipment up to an NFL set limit on its value.
[...] Since the players are not permitted at the facilities, the Strength and Conditioning Staff may, if requested by a player, send an individual player a suggested workout program including videotaped demonstrations and instructions for complete weight training sessions, including the types of lifts or other exercises or exercise programs. The Strength and Conditioning staff may also answer any questions an individual player may have about the workout program or exercise equipment.
Players may participate on a voluntary basis in individual or group activities and instruction on a virtual basis relating to diet, nutrition, wellness, yoga, aerobics and other similar therapeutic exercise.
The memo sent to the league’s players also reiterates that participation in the workouts is voluntary and that teams cannot reward or discipline players based on attendance — rules that are also in place for normal phase one offseason workouts.
The Patriots’ strength and conditioning staff is led by Moses Cabrera, who is entering his 10th season with the organization. He originally arrived in New England in 2011 as the assistant to Harold Nash, and was promoted after Nash’s departure during the 2016 offseason. Cabrera and his assistant Deron Mayo, who joined the operation in 2018, are leading one of the best conditioning programs in the NFL.