Keidel: NFL Draft Will Do Wonders For Our Sporting Souls

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By WFAN Sports Radio 101.9 FM/66AM New York

Since Uncle Sam just told us to stay 6 feet apart until at least April 30, the idea of sports filling our televisions, arenas and hearts feels more distant than ever. 

It may seem trivial to the highbrow types for us to love and live for sports. Our streets and towns have been hollowed out, giving our world the feel of a horror film. How can we care about balls and strikes, slam dunks, and post-patterns against the apocalyptic backdrop of COVID-19?

Because we need these things more than ever. After 9/11, we were told to resume our lives as quickly as we could, to show those who attack us that Americans can't be curbed. And sports were the battle cry of our recovery. But with coronavirus inserting a stiff-arm between us, we're being told the reverse — to abandon our habits and rituals and resist our impulse to help and hug our loved ones. So sports, more than ever, must be the cultural, connective tissue they've always been. 

Which is why something so seemingly trivial as the NFL draft should go on as planned, from April 23-25, even if no fans can attend and they can't turn it into a high-fiving, chest-bumping spectacle. It's not about greed. It's about need. 

Commissioner Roger Goodell at the 2019 NFL draft in Nashville, TennesseeKirby Lee/USA TODAY Images

The NFL, more than any of our flatlining leagues, has owned the bold ink and back page. Without March Madness or baseball’s opening day, we could at least feast on NFL free agency. Ironically, the most surreal time in our nation's history produced the most seismic move in NFL history, when Tom Brady left his throne in New England for the more tempting yet uncertain pastures of Tampa. 

Perhaps no offseason in NFL history has sent more monoliths to new clubs. Philip Rivers will be heaving passes for the Indianapolis Colts. Cam Newton has no home, neither does fellow Heisman winner and top overall draft pick Jameis Winston. And perhaps the most productive wide receiver in pro football, DeAndre Hopkins, was dealt to Arizona for a bowl of soup. 

Yes, it helps. All of it. It helps to wonder if the Jets, who just lost Robby Anderson, will spend their first pick (11th overall) on Oklahoma speedster CeeDee Lamb or Alabama wideout Jerry Jeudy,  or if they will beef up their offensive line. This draft marks the first one in 20 years in which the Jets don't have Brady's boot on their neck. Despite their two fleeting runs to the AFC title game under Rex Ryan, this is the first time the AFC East is truly wide open. 

Likewise, the Giants are remaking their team without the specter a superpower lording over their division. Big Blue is justifiably excited over Daniel Jones — or “Danny Dimes,” if you still prefer — and have a robust quartet of pass catchers (if you include tight end Evan Engram) for Jones to find. Do they grab a beefy lineman to protect Jones and block for Saquon Barkley? Or trade the fourth overall selection for more picks? And how will they adjust to these science fiction scenarios with a rookie head coach? Joe Judge may have studied at Belichick Tech, but there's no playbook for pandemics. 

The timing of this virus has given the NFL a Teflon sheen. Since it's the only sport that's still operating with any normalcy, we may think it's immune to the virus. Frankly, it's the random arrival of COVID-19, which happened right after the Super Bowl, that made it football friendly. 

But all these deals, behind the scenes or live on a stage, act as bread crumbs for sports fans, leading us to the main meal of real seasons. The NBA, NHL and MLB will eventually take part in truncated seasons, or so we hope. But the NFL, our most robust sport, the ratings king of five networks, can remind us why it leapfrogged every other league years ago. So even a bare-bones broadcast of the NFL draft, which was slated for Las Vegas but now will be held remotely, sans the fans, can do wonders for our sporting soul.

Maybe you can't go to Sin City to take it in. But it would be a sin to cancel a primal event on the NFL calendar. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel.