No matter how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected individual Americans, it’s never far from our minds — and that was certainly no less true for Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach when he spoke to the media in a pre-draft teleconference on Thursday, spending much of his time talking about the circumstances that have made this NFL offseason unlike any in history.
But Veach said that after the first few days adjusting to the new environment, he and his team are functioning pretty smoothly.
“I think when it first started there was that phase of two or three days where it didn’t feel like you were getting the production you wanted just because you were transitioning,” he recalled. “But really it goes back to Kevin Higgins and our IT department, Pat Brazil and our video department. Once you work out the kinks after the first two or three days, it honestly felt like I was at the office. Instead of me talking to my guys right there, they were just on the video screen.”
Some tremendous office decor from @Chiefs GM with the “Do We Have Time To Run Wasp?” print framed in his “Virtual Draft Room”....@ArrowheadPride @BreakingT— Peter Schrager (@PSchrags) April 16, 2020
Great spotting from @HaroldRKuntz3 pic.twitter.com/e1Q7ifRyuP
Veach also wanted to single out longtime equipment manager Allen Wright and facilities director Rocco Mazzella and his staff for helping him “transform my basement into a draft room.”
“Every year, I get a chance to come up here and thank our great scouting staff — and I’ve said this time and time again — [that] I’m truly blessed and fortunate to have such a talented staff. But I think during this process here, some of the people that sometimes get overlooked [in] their ability [have] really come to the forefront.”
Veach said with their help, the new routine now seems normal.
“Our ability to communicate with players, coaches, go through stats, go through certain situations throughout the draft — it’s almost becoming commonplace now, where we just wake up, come down and we have the ability to record all of the players that we interview,” he said. “So there’s a lot of times where I’m jumping on these chats live and interacting and there’s a lot of times where I’m working through some video and I’m working through some other stuff where I can come back in the morning and just click on yesterday’s videos and watch that. There are certainly unique challenges, but those challenges are the same for all 32 teams — and I think we’re prepared.”
But Veach was willing to admit that some things weren’t quite the same while operating under the new normal.
“The league — and we certainly fall in line with this — [doesn’t] want healthy players [for whom] we might want a second MRI taking up valuable hospital space and medical space,” he explained.
So again, Veach highlighted the help he’s getting from his staff.
“I feel very fortunate that we have a great training staff; Rick Burkholder and I have worked a long time together. [I’m] just going to rely on those guys doing some extra phone calls, emailing and scanning images, and relying on their connections and their networks throughout the country. That’s been a little bit of a difficult process — just because we’re so used to having things and flying players in and working through them.”
Veach also allowed while he’s trying not to deviate from his usual routine, the pandemic has slightly decreased the size of his draft board.
“I would say the number has maybe decreased a few just because the reality of this environment we’re working in,” he acknowledged. “just [from not] getting updated hands-on information and medical in-house visits. I would say the number is slightly decreased — but nothing that is going to dramatically alter how we go about the draft.”
That said, Veach denied that the team’s offseason approach was significantly impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, saying that the moves the team has made have largely worked out exactly the way they had originally planned.
“Our intentions before this terrible epidemic unfolded [were] that we were really going to focus on the draft — and we have five picks, [so] we’re going to make the most of them,” he revealed. “And in free agency, we’re going to look to maintain the players that we have on our team, and it worked out — being able to reduce Sammy Watkins’ deal... and bring Demarcus Robinson back... and Anthony Sherman back... and Mike Pennel back. We were certainly hopeful that would be an outcome. I’m not going to sit here and lie — [saying] that all these guys we were certain [would] come back — but that was our goal.
“Again, before this panned out, we were going to focus on the draft and look to retain players here — because inevitably when you start dabbling into free agency, you have to overpay. That’s just the price of doing business. We understand that. Everybody understands it. We were really just focused in on our picks and retaining our players. We’re very fortunate that we were able to get a bulk of those guys back.”
Veach said that the continuity this will provide the team wasn’t planned because of the pandemic — but now that it’s here, the Chiefs will benefit more than they imagined.
“Continuity is good in any year, but certainly this year — with having limits during OTAs and additional practice times. The more guys around that are familiar with how we do things, the playbook, what’s expected of them is certainly beneficial.
“I don’t think it was our intention to have this,” he added. “We didn’t get this and then say, ‘Ok, let’s just go after our guys and establish continuity.’ Our intention was, ‘Let’s retain our guys and keep continuity.’ And then the format, which is now real, it just happened to fall in line with being a very workable format for us.”
As for the draft itself, the war room participants will now simply continue to work individually from their homes.
“Everyone’s going to be at their homes per the letter from the league,” said Veach. “We’re all set up. Coach will be at his house. Me and our directors will be at [our] homes and working out of their homes. The league allows an IT person to be present at your house and a security guy there — just in case people don’t like your picks, they’re not knocking on your door or ringing the doorbell.”
In particular, Veach will have a person tasked with pulling all the threads together at the right times.
“I have a guy — Ryan Poles — who has done a tremendous job at taking the lead on this. He’s been able to kind of like control who comes in and who comes out of the room, so if I say ‘Ryan, grab me Rick.’ He can bring Rick into a chatroom. If I say, ‘Ryan, grab me an area scout,’ he could bring one in. The things that I want to maintain is just that ability. I don’t want to be sitting there pulling people into the draft rooms, calling people. I think we have a plan where we have a computer dedicated to Clark Hunt and Mark Donovan and Andy Reid [where] we can talk through some big picture stuff. And then Ryan has the ability to bring in coordinators, bring in coaches, bring in medical very quickly.”
The league has already conducted a trial run of the draft setup — with two more to be conducted before draft day — and while teams are (naturally) concerned that there could be glitches while they’re on the clock, they anticipate things will run smoothly — and they will all have an ace in the hole.
“I think the scenario that we’re all kind of playing through our mind is when you’re on the clock and you’re about to turn a card in and then with 45 seconds left, a team comes in and presents a really interesting trade,” Veach said. “When you’re in the office, you can look to a guy. [We’re] just making sure that we don’t have a slow connection at 45 seconds. So, that’s a little bit of a concern — just that last-minute trade that you get the phone call on the clock. But again, the league has done a great job of just making sure that if anything crazy happens with technical difficulties, [you can] just call them — and they’re going to be understanding.”
This will truly be a draft like no other — and this time, Clark Hunt will be able to bring whatever food he wants into his draft room.