The war room has become synonymous with power and strategy in the NFL. Who wouldn't want a peek inside?
At the Packers, we actually had two rooms. The traditional one featured the usual measurables -- height, weight, speed, vertical. Then there was a financial room that I designed focused on salary, cap number, acceleration, contract year, agent and team charts showing cash/cap by position, offense/defense and trends. This space was a favorite of Commissioner Roger Goodell and the late Gene Upshaw, who wanted to design a similar room at NFLPA headquarters.
The war room also featured "ready" lists and depth charts, although its most celebrated use is the draft, where decisions affect franchises' fortunes.
We had a setup in Green Bay that I believe is common, one that I saw followed in Philadelphia when I consulted there. The general manager -- Ted Thompson -- sat closest to the draft board, flanked by head coach Mike McCarthy and other trusted personnel advisors. During my time it included John Schneider, now general manager of the Seahawks, and Reggie McKenzie, now general manager of the Raiders, next to McCarthy working the phones for trades. Nearby are doctors and trainers with a number system that goes from 1 to 4. One means completely clean physically, and four would be a complete fail. Sometimes doctors are put on the spot with questions such as, "He'll make it through his rookie contract, right, Doc?"
Also close by was the cap/contract person -- me. My role was to advise on cap implications of trades and glean information from agents. And, of course, there's someone on the phone with a team official at the draft in New York -- we sent our video and equipment men -- handing in the "card."
Some teams were more restrictive about allowing people into the room. I heard that Al Davis was usually alone making selections. Most teams, however, allow staff to share the day. Ownership is usually present, although most leave soon after the first selection.
The best decision-makers, in my view, "trust the board." Players have been poked, prodded, analyzed and discussed for seven months. It's time to let the board do the work.
The biggest downfall of decision-makers is becoming impulsive and emotional, straying from the board. Nothing deflates the morale of scouting staffs faster.
Every player beyond the first pick thinks he should've been drafted higher. Ego and insecurity dominate draft weekend.
We always called a player before selecting him to, as general manager Ron Wolf used to say, "make sure he's still alive." Although they were all alive, there were times we had to locate the player through agents, girlfriends or relatives.
I called the agent for every drafted player to acknowledge the selection, and I inevitably heard how lucky we were to get the player where we did. That line is certainly part of the agent handbook.
Getting Aaron Rodgers
In 2005, all of the defensive players we targeted -- including DeMarcus Ware and Marcus Spears, both picked by Dallas -- were off the board, leaving us staring at Aaron Rodgers, the only player left with a first-round grade. Although we had the most durable quarterback in football, Brett Favre, we decided to "trust the board."
I called Rodgers' agent, Mike Sullivan. I've been an agent, and I felt for Mike. They sat in that green room for six hours watching all the other players be selected, left alone as the catering staff cleared tables around them. I had to keep them on hold another excruciating 10 minutes to see whether the phone rang with a trade offer for the pick (it didn't). I think about how things would be different had Ware or Spears been available or if we had received an offer for that pick.
A trade (almost)
When trades are made, there may be two negotiations: one about trade compensation, and one about financial compensation.
In 2007, the Raiders made Randy Moss available. We were interested provided we could agree on trade terms and compensation. The Patriots were interested, too.
Moss demanded a one-year deal so he could hit the market after the season and recoup some lost value, but we insisted on a two-year deal. We did not want to be a temporary stop for him before he made another big contract elsewhere. When New England relented on the one-year term, Moss was a Patriot.
Favre was livid. I spent the rest of the draft listening to Bus Cook, his agent, express Favre's anger, along with threats to not show up. I knew Favre had long dreamed of playing with Moss, but I told him that Greg Jennings would be a star in time. Favre said he didn't have time. I explained our method of drafting and developing players, but it only served to deepen his resentment of a general manager who did not welcome his input the way previous regimes had.
After the three-day marathon of the draft, the action really heats up. Teams have recruited "priority free agents" for weeks, and every agent's response is the same: "If you're interested, draft him!" When the draft ends, the feeding frenzy begins, a chaotic scene where teams have multiple players on the line while agents are doing the same with several teams, a risky game of musical jobs.
I remember once agreeing on a contract with a player and then noting in the news that another team had signed him. This player and agent didn't realize he could sign with only one team!
I also remember one of our scouts yelling to the group in 2003 about a quarterback from Eastern Illinois: "Anyone want to sign this Romo guy for free? He's from Wisconsin." He got no response.
I always thought undrafted free agency should be a matching system similar to the one for medical residents and hospitals: Players would submit their desired teams and teams submit their desired players in a high-tech version of "The Dating Game."
The undrafted free agent frenzy ends within an hour, and the draft is over. The phones keep ringing with agents looking for favors for their unsigned players, but it's usually too late. The incoming rookie class arrives for minicamp in a few days, and the cycle begins anew.