NFL lockout forces teams to be open-minded regarding draft

Sunday, April 24, 2011 at 10:05pm

The NFL lockout is going to open up the draft. 

That’s the way Tennessee Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt sees it as he prepares for his fifth draft as the final voice for the franchise. This one differs from any of the previous four because of the lockout, which is in its second month and has halted virtually all other traditional offseason NFL business. 

“In prior years when you’ve done free agency already, you’ve already kind of addressed some of your needs,” Reinfeldt said. “Now you’re going to have more needs. I think it opens your draft board up and makes you look at more possibilities and more scenarios, consider more choices. 

“That’s kind of a fun thing if you like the draft, if you like the players up on the draft board. It’s like playing the game at a bigger dimension almost.” 

Without free agency, teams have not had the opportunity to address any of their needs. In the Titans’ case, that means they still have no idea what they’re doing at quarterback, linebacker or tight end, for example. So the draft, which begins Thursday and runs through Saturday, is their first opportunity to fill holes in the roster — or rather, the last opportunity to plug some remaining cracks. 

In other words, the tired notion of teams picking the best available player — regardless of position — will have a lot more truth to it this time.

“You also in the back of your mind know something’s going to happen [with free agency],” Reinfeldt said. “You still have other opportunities to help yourself in certain areas.” 

This year also is different — at least for the Titans — because it is their first with Mike Munchak as head coach. After he replaced Jeff Fisher, the former offensive line coach also overhauled the majority of the staff, which means there are new schemes, different preferences in terms of players and different voices in the meeting rooms.

“I think we’re going through the same meetings with the scouts and with the coaches interacting,” Reinfeldt said. “Coach Munchak and myself are in there. I think we’re going through the board, placing the players. … I think Munchak has done a great job of doing his homework, meeting with the players, watching tape, meeting with his coaches.”

While the lack of a free agency period creates more possibilities for the draft, Reinfeldt said it also has helped produce more certainty about how he and his staff feel about those who are available.

“I think one of the good things about it is it’s a little less hectic,” Reinfeldt said. “I think we have more time to really focus on all the components of the draft — the player visits, watching tape, meeting. It’s a little less hectic than it usually is, and that’s probably a good thing.”

He also figures it will open up the lines of communication between teams during the draft. Teams are allowed to trade picks for picks but no players can be involved in deals during the lockout, and the thought is that there will be more pick-swapping than usual.

“I think it has to do with the fact that people have spent more time on the draft, there’s more possibilities, more scenarios,” Reinfeldt said. “I think that’s going to make people more willing to do things.”

In other words, the lockout is going to make everyone a little more open-minded.