What if there were no draft this weekend? If every college football prospect were free to sign with any NFL team for whatever the market could bear?
Chaos is a word that comes to the minds of many player personnel directors.
Today: What if there were no NFL draft? It could happen in 2012.
Tomorrow: A look at the contest to land the best undrafted free agents in the hours after the draft.
Friday: A look at some familiar names you can expect to hear called.
Saturday: Ed Bouchette zeroes in on the Steelers' short list while offering his annual mock draft.
"I'd hate it; I think it would put us into the haves and have-nots as fast as you can be," said Tom Modrak, Buffalo's vice president of college scouting. "Go back to the USFL and you can draw some parallels. There would be more cheating, and I think it would put us into maybe like baseball where some teams just can't get above water."
Can't happen? The draft is scheduled not to happen in three years.
There has been a draft -- teams selecting players in the reverse order of their finish the previous season -- since 1936, but that will end in 2012 unless management and the players' union can agree to a new collective bargaining agreement to maintain the draft. While it seems far-fetched there will be no draft, "I thought we'd never see a lockout, either," one top boss from an NFL team said. The lockout could occur before the 2011 season if there is no new CBA by then.
But, what wouldhappen if there were no draft? Assuming there is no draft would mean there also would be no salary cap or salary floor, so teams would be able to pay as much or as little as they wanted. Would the rich teams prevail? The best recruiters? The most charismatic coaches? The teams in the most glamorous areas of the country? The ones giving the rookies the best chance to play quickly?
Those questions and more were put to a panel of NFL personnel men. Their opinions varied as widely as their opinions about college prospects.
Ozzie Newsome, general manager of the Baltimore Ravens, figures the signing period for college players would be similar to when free agency begins for veterans now.
"You see how the money gets driven up the first week in free agency? That would happen with the college players."
But he does not necessarily see the big-bucks men winning out as others do.
"I'll tell you what, the teams that have really good scouts and personnel departments would do well because they have scouted the colleges and know the talent," Newsome said. "They'd be able to get players you don't see on ESPN or the NFL Network, and you can come up with good players. I think teams that do a very good job of scouting would be at an advantage if there were no draft."
That opening week for signing players would be wild. When the USFL played in 1983-85, the new league often allowed their teams to sign college players, and, if they were successful, would permit that team to "draft" them. That was how the Pittsburgh Maulers acquired Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier. They signed him right after the Orange Bowl, then "drafted" him.
Without a draft, teams could bid on players, they could hide players as both leagues did in the 1960s when the AFL came into existence, and the sky would be the limit.
"You can probably name the three, four or five guys right now that people would be bidding for in this draft," Newsome said.
Even the lower-rated players could benefit because "all it would take is two teams" bidding, Newsome noted.
The Atlanta Falcons drafted quarterback Matt Ryan with the third overall pick last year. At the same time, Baltimore wanted to draft a quarterback.
"If you'd taken last year, what would it have been like between us and Atlanta bidding for Matt Ryan?" Newsome wondered. "Tom Condon [his agent] would have loved that."
Gene Smith, general manager of the Jacksonville Jaguars, believes teams would have to have representatives around most major colleges, part-time scouts like baseball has now called "bird dogs."
"We'd have to have bird dogs around all the major programs because 90 percent of the players are from major schools," Smith said. "You'd have to extend your staff, have a nice volunteer group of people who would enable you to aggressively sign players.
"The [Dallas] Cowboys did it at one time; they were one of the best teams sitting people at home and signing guys."
The draft is allowed to exist because the union and management agreed to its terms in their CBA. Otherwise, it would violate anti-trust laws. That agreement will end with the 2011 draft unless it is renewed.
The first draft in 1936 consisted of nine rounds, but that soon became 30 in the 1940s. There were 30-round drafts as late as 1959, then it was shortened to 20, then 17 in 1967, which became 12 in 1977, eight in 1993 and the seven used now a year later.
But what if there were none?
"I'll tell you what it would be," said NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt. "Some people would get a lot of money and a lot of people would get no money."
Brandt worked in the personnel department for the Dallas Cowboys from their inception, before they started playing as an NFL expansion franchise in 1960. That's the same year the AFL got its start and the "war" between the leagues began.
"Certain teams had money and others didn't," Brandt recalled. "Pittsburgh was a team that had a hard time to compete against Lamar Hunt and Bud Adams and so forth.
"That's how they got Bob Ferguson [first round, 1962]. They tried to sign about four or five players because you wanted to get the first guy you could sign."
Dan Rooney said the Steelers wanted to draft Grambling defensive lineman Buck Buchanan in 1963, but that Hunt's Kansas City Chiefs "stashed" him until they could sign him. Rooney also said the Steelers, who drafted Emerson Boozer in the seventh round in 1966, lost him to the AFL's New York Jets when team owner Sonny Werblin paid a personal visit to his home to sign him.
Those kinds of stories would pale compared to what would occur if the NFL had no draft.
"Instead of having a system, you'd have a free-for-all," Brandt said. "It would be good for five, six, eight players, but like a housewife on a budget, they can spread it out and eat good for a week or go hog-wild and have a good steak Saturday night and then macaroni and cheese the rest of the week."
Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .