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Niners Nation After Dark: How About No NFL Draft?

NN After Dark 2
NN After Dark 2

Welcome back to Niners Nation After Dark where we're getting over what was a really fun weekend of sports. The NBA and NHL Playoffs are nearing the end of the first round, while baseball is getting into the full swing of its season. Throw in the NFL Draft coming up next week and it's a fun time in sports. OK, it's a fun time when things are actually happening (playoffs, MLB, draft). Labor issues are arising in every major sport with collective bargaining agreements expiring left and right.

Amidst the labor and antitrust issues that have arisen in the NFL's little squabble, there was some discussion about how the artist formerly known as the NFLPA wanted to get rid of the draft. For many people that was just viewed as a way to gain some leverage in negotiations. However, whether the players are serious about that or not, it's an intriguing exercise to at least ponder the possibility of a league with no draft. One NFL agent has even hopped on the bandwagon saying in reality there probably should not be a draft. Brian Ayrault had the following to say on Twitter:

Why should there even be a draft? Players should be able to choose who they work for and where they live ... No draft would also help prospects choose the best roster situations. Market should determine the value of all contracts ... Competitive balance is a fallacy. The success of teams is determined by good ownership and scouting. Period ... I think most players would prefer to sell their services to the highest bidder and choose the best roster ... 

In a free market, players would finish college (or forego their eligibility at some point) and then be available as free agents for NFL teams to sign. I suppose in a truly free market players wouldn't even really have to go to college, but that's an argument for another day.

It would be an interesting model if a professional sports league elected to just allow players to enter free agency. If you combined the NFL's revenue sharing and salary cap model with a free market of players entering the league, it could make for an interesting dynamic. Would teams like Detroit and Buffalo (among others) ever find a way to improve if players weren't forced to play for them? There are only so many roster spots available so somebody would have to sign with the bottom of the barrel teams. It's just a question of how much top talent would find its way to the dredges of the league.

Speaking of the salary cap and revenue sharing, I had a brief exchange with Brian earlier today in regards to these issues. He has his opinions as to competitive balance and what helps build it. He said good ownership and scouting determines a team's success, "Period." While I agree that good ownership and scouting are key, I also think the NFL's current model of revenue sharing is important as well. Brian points to how MLB's "competitive balance" in terms of the variety of World Series champions since 2001 with no salary cap.

Of course, consider the fact that teams like Indianapolis, Green Bay and Pittsburgh have all won Super Bowls. MLB had Florida and Arizona winning in 2001 and 2003, but for the most part it's been significant markets winning the Super Bowl. Scouting and quality ownership helped the "small" markets win Super Bowls, but to say the revenue sharing-based salary cap did not have anything to do with it is kind of weak.

A team like Green Bay or Indianapolis might get a chance every once in a while, in a sort of Florida Marlins-esque way where a team builds its young talent towards one single shot at the championship. However, in the NFL, the mix of quality ownership/scouting and the chance to be on a somewhat even playing field financially makes it "easier" to stay in that competitive situation. At least that's how I feel. I could be way off base.