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NFL scouting combine and pre-draft process to look drastically different in 2021

Related: Drafting an offseason plan to reload the Patriots for the 2021 season

NFL Combine - Day 6 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

With only four teams left standing in the NFL’s playoff tournament, the focus within the league has started to turn towards organizing an offseason that once again will be impacted by the Coronavirus. As a result of the pandemic, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to the 32 organizations informing them of changes that will be made to the scouting combine originally scheduled to take place in Indianapolis in early March.

Long story short, the combine as we know it will not take place. A copy of the memo, obtained by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, shows that workouts, interviews and physicals will have to be conducted remotely:

Consistent with medical and public health advice, the 2021 Combine will be conducted in a different format. There will be no in-person workouts at the Combine. Instead, any workouts will take place on the individual pro days on college campuses. We will work with the schools to encourage consistency in testing and drills across pro days and ensure that all clubs have access to video from those workouts, irrespective of whether the club is represented at a particular workout.

Team officials, coaches, scouts and medical personnel have convened in Indianapolis to analyze the nation’s top prospects ever since 1987, when a group of executives — among them long-time member of the New England Patriots Francis “Bucko” Kilroy — founded the combine to standardize the scouting process. In order to still have that standardization in place this year, the league will obviously have to adapt to the new circumstances.

While the on-field workouts get the most publicity during the combine, teams actually place a higher value on interviews and medical examination. Both will still take place, albeit in another forum as well: prospect interviews will again be conducted virtually, while medical testing is still being worked on by the league.

The memo sent out by Goodell has to say the following about that process:

With the assistance of a working group of club physicians and athletic trainers, we are developing a plan to obtain comprehensive medical information on each of the invited prospects. This plan will likely involve a combination of virtual interviews by club medical staffs and testing done at labs and medical facilities near the invited prospect’s residence (permanent or temporary). For a certain number or prospects an in-person examination will take place at one of more designated locations, likely in early April. Each club will be permitted to send one physician and one athletic trainer to conduct these in-person exams, which will likely be scheduled over a two or three-day period.

It remains to be seen how those medical check-ups will actually look like, but the league is again changing its normal approach to ensure a safe process in times of Covid-19.

“If this spring is the same as last spring, then it will be about the same as last spring — virtual interviews with the players and the information as you can get it and so forth,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said about the pre-draft process earlier this month.

“We’ll just have to see how all that goes in terms of the spring scouting and information gathering process. But, the fall scouting has basically been off of film and whatever virtual or phone call communication could be done with a staff member or a pro liaison or however the colleges set it up.”

With the combine not taking place as it normally would, another major part of the offseason will be impacted as well: team executives and player representatives usually get together in Indianapolis to informally open free agency a few weeks before it officially begins. While no deals can be agreed to just yet, and no negotiations are allowed to take place before the so-called legal tampering window that opens two days before free agency, agents can get a feel for their clients’ outlook all while teams can get a sense about potential targets.