N.F.L. Steps Out of the Basement for 2021 Draft


The N.F.L. announced Monday that the coming draft, slated to take place from April 29 to May 1, will be a bridge between the league’s recent extremes. Goodell will once again announce selections from a stage, this time in Cleveland, and team personnel will once again be allowed to work from so-called war rooms, as long as they follow local health guidelines. ESPN, ABC and the NFL Network will televise the event.

This version of the annual spectacle will marry the ceremony of the league’s recent drafts with the socially distanced production elements from last season. Some rookies will still participate virtually from their homes, while mask and distancing requirements will be in place for those on site in Cleveland. The N.F.L. did not immediately respond to a request for comment about how many prospects will be in Cleveland, or about whether health protocols will prevent the bear hugs between draftees and Goodell that have been a hallmark of the event.

The draft will be the N.F.L.’s first public event since Super Bowl LV, which took place with a hybrid attendance model in Tampa, Fla. There, 22,000 fans — a relatively large number in the pandemic era but the lowest attendance ever for the event — watched in person, following masks and social-distancing measures, at Raymond James Stadium as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs.

The prospect of a celebratory championship, or even completing a full season, had been in doubt in March 2020. But despite outbreaks at team facilities and the slew of schedule changes that resulted, the N.F.L. played all 256 regular-season games and a full playoff slate within the confines of the season’s planned start and end dates. From August through the end of the playoffs, 262 players and 463 team personnel, or 0.08 percent, contracted the coronavirus. Those statistics, along with a steady decline of infections and loosened local restrictions across the country, allowed some of the league’s teams to raise permitted attendance levels at games as the season progressed.

Goodell will announce picks an outdoor stage near Lake Erie, and invited fans from all 32 teams will watch from a nearby theater. Those fans must be fully vaccinated, according to a statement released by the league Monday. Entertainers, coordinated by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, will also perform at the main stage.


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