Draft move more than TV ratings

The moving of the NFL draft to a three-day event likely will mean more trades, which could further increase its popularity.

There have been rumblings in recent years that the NFL would take its wildly popular April draft and move into prime time. While the drafts for Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League are virtually ignored and the NBA draft is anticlimactic and typically viewed as a two-, three- or four-player draft before it begins, the continued growth in popularity of the NFL draft has cemented its place as the preeminent draft in pro sports.

On Thursday, the NFL announced that the draft will change dramatically in 2010, with the focus shifting from a weekend of making selections to a three-day prime-time affair.

The draft will move into prime time on Thursday, April 22nd, with a 7:30 ET start. At a time when other networks are gearing up their first-run prime time coverage for the May sweeps period, ESPN and NFL Network will be getting in on the act hoping to make the one-night Thursday lineup their own versions of Must-See TV.

The Thursday broadcasts will be of the first round only, followed by Rounds 2-3 starting at 6:30 p.m. ET on Friday, April 23rd, and Rounds 4-7 beginning at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, April 24th.

Although most see this simply as a change in time for the draft, the implications may be much greater than that. In the NFL, draft picks are the primary form of currency for most teams. With the dramatic increases in the salary cap over recent years, there hasn't been the scenarios under which teams find themselves hamstrung by the salary cap or, in the case of teams like the Titans a couple of years ago, in salary cap purgatory – at one point, the Titans were $40 million over the salary cap, which resulted in actions like locking Steve McNair out of the practice facility.

The flurry of trade activity may take on even more importance thanks to the changes being made. By separating the first three rounds into two days, if a team addresses a major need in the first round, the likelihood they would entertain trade offers for subsequent picks grows significantly. Suddenly a team with an extra second-round pick can maneuver its way to the top of the round by lobbying several teams without the time constraints placed on making those picks. After the first concludes, teams will have 18 hours to attempt to swing trades, rather than a couple of hours under the current system.

While many may view the moving of the draft as a way for the NFL simply to maximize its television audience and increase ratings for its own network, the result may have much larger ramifications, as trades of picks and players will have more time to be constructed and executed – making the draft even more interesting than it already is.

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