NFL general managers charged with managing the calm and the chaos of draft week
By Randy Mueller
Special to FOX Sports
A 10-month grind will end with a three-day sprint this week for NFL general managers and front offices.
Hundreds of hours of scouting and sequencing college prospects will culminate in the seven rounds of the NFL draft and the process of signing undrafted free agents to fill out a 90-man roster.
Most teams will add 10-12 new faces who will go a long way toward determining the career trajectories of many in an NFL building.
Having been one of those decision-makers for many years, I usually got a peaceful pre-draft feeling when I knew "the hay was in the barn."
I never felt like I could get to that point, however, until the day before the draft. It’s a happy place when you think you have it all figured out, and the work is complete.
But trust me, I’ve been involved in more than one draft in which I never found that peace of mind because I didn’t like our options – so it’s not a given.
When all the mock drafts and inside intel keep bringing you to a player you just don’t have conviction on, it’s a bad feeling. That dream becomes a nightmare and keeps playing out in your sleep: After making a couple dozen calls to trade down, nothing is materializing, and you're going to have to make the pick.
Dolphins general manager Randy Mueller, right, meets the media to discuss the 2007 NFL Draft with coach Cam Cameron. (Photo by Jared Lazarus/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
It’s the worst-case scenario for a team builder, and when I’ve had it, I felt like I was letting the whole organization down. That weight can be heavy.
The average fan can’t really see the amount of work, the amount of effort, the amount of planning that goes into this biggest weekend of the year. The coaching equivalent is like preparing one single game plan ... for an entire year.
I love the process that we, as an NFL staff, filter through during the course of a year. It starts with combine meetings in June, creating a worksheet to start our work year, then melding all the opinions and building consensus all the way through draft weekend.
Discussion and fitting players into our own created criteria have led us to a strategy and a plan that at this point is missing only the action of pulling the trigger. I am a firm believer that the process leads you to the players if you have a detailed discipline to believe and follow it.
When we got within 24 hours of the draft, I always felt the process needed to be shut down. We were done moving cards. All possible trade partners had been vetted and communicated with. The discussion was over. Let’s put it to bed.
By the time a team is actually on the clock, the time for debating the choice has long passed. (Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
We knew, in every instance, what we were going to do. Don’t come to me with any more contrarian ideas. Normally, we would have shut out the media craziness and the outside noise the week before, anyway.
The day before the draft, I always wanted to be out of the office by early afternoon. I might head out to play nine holes of golf, just to get away. Or maybe I'd meet the scouts for a beer during happy hour at a local watering hole.
Or when you have a young daughter in the house who almost has forgotten who Dad is, I'd take her to a play for a showing of "Beauty and the Beast" in downtown Seattle.
I found that if I could disappear both physically and mentally, it was a short recess into how the rest of the world lives. I’d come back the next morning refreshed and clear.
I was never one to come in hours early on draft day, either. Even as the lead decision-maker, a couple of hours is fine to get your mind right and deal with any issues. I always felt like any more than that – and I’ve worked with people who wanted you in there four or five hours ahead of the draft – was just "CYA" time. It only gives you more time to second-guess your own actions.
I don’t want to hear from a source making a last-ditch effort to sell a particular player. As most have experienced, we all have people in the building who like drama. I wanted to limit my interaction with drama-creators on draft day.
The calm before the storm equates to studying for a test – when you're prepared, you have confidence, conviction and very little anxiety on test day. If you haven’t studied, your mind might have some chaos and doubt.
When the pick is finally called in, it's the culmination of a 10-month process. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
While many in the room are nervous on draft day, I’ve mostly felt a sense of calm. I didn’t hear the noise in the room or the chatter on the television. I enjoyed having the assistant coaches in the room. They were just as much a part of the process as the rest.
I remember Saints owner Tom Benson asking me once, "Does all this noise bother you?" My response was, "What noise?" I was focused and in a different world, just watching picks come off the board.
One misconception is that scouts or coaches pound the table for particular players. Nope, not in my draft room. Those discussions are all over by draft day, and most know what we will do when our turn comes in the first round, just by what’s happening ahead of us.
We have considered every scenario already and made our choice in pre-draft mocks, so there is actually little or no discussion. You might have some discussion on picks as the draft moves through later rounds, but it stems from a depth chart that has been affected by early picks more times than not.
Trade possibilities will form a cloud over the proceedings and might change the demeanor in the room, but overall, most decision-makers know well ahead of time what they are going to do. Time will not factor into your decision when your team is on the clock.
I think 95 percent of your decisions are best made when not being boxed in by the time your team is on the clock.
Here's hoping your team’s decision-makers will get that peaceful, easy feeling the night before the draft and that it will carry on through the weekend.
Randy Mueller is the former general manager for the Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins. He spent more than 30 years working in NFL front offices as a talent evaluator. Follow him on Twitter or at muellerfootball.com.