Dan Wiederer: Conducting the NFL draft from home will be a bit of a circus
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Dan Wiederer: Conducting the NFL draft from home will be a bit of a circus

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Bears general manager Ryan Pace speaks at a news conference at Halas Hall on Dec. 31, 2019, in Lake Forest.

Bears general manager Ryan Pace speaks at a news conference at Halas Hall on Dec. 31, 2019, in Lake Forest.

CHICAGO - We know what you're thinking. This year's NFL draft has the potential to be a bit of a circus. A quagmire. A full-blown cluster-kerfuffle.

Two weeks from Thursday, with its standard "show must go on" determination, the NFL will push ahead with its 2020 player-selection process but in a truly unorthodox manner. All the pomp and circumstance had to be scrapped weeks ago, visions of a packed Las Vegas Strip and boat rides across the Fountains of Bellagio tossed away. And so much for the possibility of Tua Tagovailoa circling around the High Roller Ferris wheel shortly after being selected.

Because of the stifling but necessary restrictions stemming from the coronavirus emergency, the NFL is eschewing theatrics and thumbing deep into its "Plan B" binders.

The essential alterations, however, have zipped way beyond the mere elimination of excessive extravagance. Now the basic procedural elements of the draft are being modified and overhauled on the fly.

On Monday, in yet another COVID-19-related memo from Commissioner Roger Goodell, the league informed teams it will strictly enforce the "shelter in place" guidelines established in the communities of all 32 organizations.

The bottom line: All team facilities will remain closed for the draft and beyond.

Off limits. Verboten. No access allowed.

No exceptions possible.

As the commissioner's memo laid out: "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. We have reviewed this matter in the past few days with both the Competition Committee and CEC (the NFL Management Council Executive Committee), and this will confirm that clubs will conduct their draft operations remotely, with club personnel separately located in their homes."

Those last three words - "in their homes" - left general managers and personnel directors across the league shuddering a bit. Obviously, they all understand and accept these extreme times and the accompanying extreme measures. But there's also an understandable fear of the unknown, a legitimate phobia that the trap doors of every Joe Blow fantasy league could soon be triggered.

You can picture it now, can't you? NFL GMs involved in the biggest night of their offseason yet forced to juggle spotty Wi-Fi service and frequent interruptions from their kids.

GM: Uh, honey? Have you seen my big-board printout with the prospect clouds for Days 2 and 3?

Wife: Not lately. At breakfast, it might have been on the counter with our census reminder and the Clipper Magazine with that Omaha Steaks Butcher's Bundle coupon.

GM: I don't see it.

Wife: Maybe I tossed it. I don't remember.

Yep. A potential circus. A quagmire. A cluster-kerfuffle.

What could possibly go wrong?

NFL executive texting new Browns GM Andrew Berry: What're you doing, man? Are you going to make your pick or what?

Berry: Is it our turn?

Exec: Has been for like five minutes.

Berry: Sorry, my computer froze. I had to restart it. And then I ran to the fridge but got summoned to fix the flapper valve in the downstairs bathroom. Anyway, we'll take Michael Ojemudia. Done and done.

Exec: Great. Only one problem. The Texans took him four picks ago.

Of course, NFL teams have enough time to prepare and test and re-test their at-home draft setups to be ready to go later this month. Bears general manager Ryan Pace has credited the organization's information technology team for mobilizing quickly and efficiently to help smooth the bumps of the setup.

Pace said Friday the Bears were juggling three options for their draft weekend arrangement. Option A: Getting clearance from the league to have a small gathering of key decision makers admitted to Halas Hall to do business from the team's state-of-the-art and technologically souped-up draft room. Option B: Setting up shop at an off-site location with a small gathering. Option C: Rooting down at home if so ordered and trying to make the best of it.

As Pace noted about Option C: "Obviously there are some challenges with that. ... Whatever they tell us to do, we'll be ready. We're just going to follow the experts in that area."

Option C it will be.

These draft mandates present obvious challenges. Working the phones for trades will be more difficult and chaotic. Keeping everybody within an organization on the same page during the fast-paced selection process will prove tricky. Multitasking will be a must.

From start to finish, this draft will be a little more unusual and uncomfortable. It also will test a team's ability to adapt and react. In that regard, Pace has been impressed with his Bears support team over the past month.

"It's been good in that you are forced to quickly adapt to the changing landscape," Pace said. "So when we talk about our IT and video departments, they've been outstanding. The silver lining is it has pushed us further (forward) from a technology standpoint."

Since being pushed out of Halas Hall in the middle of March, Pace and his staff have become regulars in the virtual meeting world.

"Whether that's Skype or Zoom," Pace said, "it has actually been highly efficient and in some ways better. ... Since we moved out of Halas and have been working from home, it has really been seamless with our ability to watch video and the ability to have meetings and communicate and interview players. That part has been really good."

As Goodell's memo detailed, the guidance from medical advisers pushed the league down the most logical path.

"We are operating in an environment unlike anything that we have experienced before, one that requires flexibility, patience and cooperation," Goodell wrote. "As we work through those challenges together, we should not lose sight of the magnitude of this global health crisis."

Flexibility. Patience. Cooperation. And resourcefulness.

"We have to adapt," Bears coach Matt Nagy said. "We have to figure out solutions. We can't complain."

Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com

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