The War Room: Part I

The War Room. The mere mention of these words connotes power and significance. I remember the days, weeks and months following the tragedy of September 11 when it was considered inappropriate to use such metaphors, and these rooms were simply called draft rooms. As with most things, however, the sensitivity has since faded (despite our country still being at war), and the moniker of War Room for NFL draft headquarters has returned in full -- pardon the pun -- force.

At the Packers, we actually had two War Rooms. There was one room for the personnel side, featuring all the necessary statistics on the players -- height, weight, speed, shuttle times, broad jump, vertical jump, hand size, arm length, Wunderlic score, agent, etc. We also had a Financial War Room that I designed featuring the necessary statistics on all NFL players in the league from a Cap and cash standpoint -- salary, Cap number, likely and unlikely incentives, acceleration number, last contract year, prorated bonus, age, agent -- as well as charts on every team consisting of cash and Cap spending by position group, by offense/defense, by year, by draft or free agency and pending free agents. Whenever we gave VIPs a tour of the facility, our Cap Room (as opposed to Cap room) drew particular interest, especially from Commissioners Paul Tagliabue and Roger Goodell and Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw, who followed up with a request that we advise the union on the design of a similar room at its headquarters.

As for the traditional draft War Room, it was used throughout the year for ranking top players on the “ready” list in case a need came up at a certain position. It also had depth charts of every team, including practice squad players. However, the War Room’s most celebrated two days of the year are always NFL Draft weekend in late April. That’s when the room becomes the venue for decisions that affect franchises’ fortunes for years to come. (That's me at the bottom left in blue).

I’m told that the setup in the room we had in Green Bay is quite similar throughout the league. Typically, the lead decision-maker – the general manager or head coach/general manager (I have experienced both) -- sits at either the head of the table or in front of the draft board listing all the players (the board), flanked by his most trusted personnel assistant on one side and usually the head coach, if he’s not the primary decision-maker, on the other. Surrounding that brain trust is other personnel staff assigned to work the phones with other teams for trades, with designated people assigned to work with certain teams based on established relationships. Nearby are the doctors and trainers with copious records of each player and their physicals, coded with a number system that usually goes from 1 to 4, one being completely clean to four being a complete fail.

As to additional personnel populating the room, flanked somewhere near the personnel people are the Cap/contract person, which I was – ready at the call to advise on Cap implications of moving up or down and working the agents to glean information -- and a research/statistics person who has evaluated trade possibilities and other analytic models for potential scenarios. Televisions are on and tuned to ESPN, the NFL Network (the league preference) or both. And, of course, there’s a person on the line with a team official sitting in New York at the event, always at the ready to fill out and hand in the "card" with the player’s name. Thus, the scene is set.

Different teams have different feelings about who’s allowed to enter and remain in the War Room. I’ve heard that there are teams that don’t allow anyone other than the top decision-makers to enter the room, restricting access even to people who have spent months preparing the team for this day. Most rooms are much more open and allow staff to share in the important events of the day. Of course, ownership – or, in the case of the Packers, members of the Board of Directors – is usually present on these weekends, although most exit stage right soon after the top pick is made. And now media access has become much more in vogue, with War Room cams throughout the league and assorted media allowed to document the events.

While there are dramatic consequences with the decisions being made on these two days, the decision-makers whom I’ve watched, including Ron Wolf, Mike Sherman and Ted Thompson, tend to be very relaxed as the draft begins, understanding the two days require great stamina and the pace of a marathon rather than a sprint. All the work has been done -- players have been poked, prodded, quizzed, paraded in front of scouts in their gym shorts, analyzed, discussed, and analyzed and discussed some more for the past seven months. Now it’s time to let the board do the bulk of the work, or, at least, that’s what should happen.

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