NFL draft drew 160,000 with protocols for limited attendance

Tue May 4 4:02pm ET
By BARRY WILNER
AP Pro Football Writer

Given that the nation remains in a pandemic, the NFL is more than satisfied with being able to attract 160,000 fans to the draft in Cleveland last week.

While those numbers pale in comparison to what the three-day draft drew in previous years in Nashville and Philadelphia, they also reflect the necessary health and safety protocols the league observed.

''We hit 160,000 across the three days,'' Peter O'Reilly, the NFL's NFL executive vice president of club business and league events, said Tuesday.

''We hit some rough weather on Thursday night but the crowd experience built. It's a testament to Browns fans and Cleveland overall. Of course the numbers are less than if we were fully beyond the pandemic, but to put it in context, it's more than in year one (2015, when the draft was moved from New York) in Grant Park in Chicago.

''This was certainly a hybrid draft as we transition out the other side of the pandemic. Last year was about representing where we all were, which was literally in our basements. This was pointing to brighter days and how you can do things together outdoors in a safe way.''

Just as in Chicago, Philadelphia and Nashville, the NFL used an iconic locale within the city, building a stage and fan complex along the shore of Lake Erie and next to the Browns' stadium and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The views provided on television gave this draft the feel of a big event, something Americans covet as the COVID-19 threat remains.

Indeed, many sports and other entertainment genres were watching the NFL to see how things went. There was a large presence of vaccinated fans on hand - a requirement near the stage - and mandatory mask wearing elsewhere across what O'Reilly called ''the broader campus.''

''We are in a very different place from last year,'' O'Reilly noted, ''and it was one where people are so eager to be out and together. And we needed to do that while working with the CDC and local health officials to strike that right balance with fans in attendance, and do it safely. And so many of those fans ... were vaccinated and they were proud to be vaccinated and thrilled to be back out at an event like that.

''We took the striking of that balance really seriously as we rolled out our plan and executed.''

The next planned major event with large crowds will be the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinements in early August in Canton, Ohio. Two classes will be inducted: 2021's eight selectees; five modern-day players from the 2020 group; and a 15-member centennial class from 2020. Last year's inductions were postponed because of the pandemic.

''We're working very closely with David Baker and the Hall of Fame on both the enshrinements and the game, which was postponed last year and features the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers,'' O'Reilly said. ''And we are looking forward to starting in a big way and hopefully to have fans on hand at training camps.''

O'Reilly and the league also are hopeful the conclusion of the draft was a harbinger. Following the announcement of the final pick, a rainbow appeared over the Cleveland skyline.

Top Headlines
The Paur Report

Interview with a Champ

Player Notes
Chad Kelly May 10 11:10pm ET

The Green Bay Packers will bring in quarterbacks Chad Kelly and Kurt Benkert to this weekend's rookie minicamp on a tryout basis, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Benkert went undrafted out of Virginia and spent the last three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, mainly on the practice squad. Kelly, the nephew of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, was taken with the final pick of the 2017 draft by the Denver Broncos, but he washed out of Denver after two seasons. He's been with the Indianapolis Colts the last two years but was released. Both players could become camp arms with upside further down the depth chart if they sign in Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love, last year's first-round pick, are the only signal-callers currently on the roster.

From RotoBaller

Davis Mills May 10 11:10pm ET

Houston Texans general manager Nick Caserio said there is no pressure for rookie quarterback Davis Mills to perform in a hurry despite the turmoil surrounding Deshaun Watson and more than 20 lawsuits filed against him. "No different than any other player," Caserio said of the timeline of bringing along the first-year signal-caller. "Bring him in, teach him our system, teach him our terminology, take it one step at a time." It's unclear what will happen with Watson as the legal proceedings play out, but the Texans weren't looking to trade him, despite his public request, before his legal issues arose. Since then, trade chatter surrounding Watson has quieted down. The three-time Pro Bowler could remain with the Texans in 2021, but wherever he's playing, he could be facing a lengthy suspension as well.

From RotoBaller

Nate Orchard May 10 4:13pm ET

Tennessee Titans TE Parker Hesse, LB Matthew Orzech and LB Nate Orchard were waived Monday, May 10.

From TheHuddle

Chad Kelly May 10 3:33pm ET

Free-agent QB Kurt Benkert (Falcons) and QB Chad Kelly (Colts) will participate in the Green Bay Packers rookie minicamp on a tryout basis, according to sources.

From TheHuddle

Dede Westbrook May 10 2:33pm ET

Free-agent WR Dede Westbrook (Jaguars) has had preliminary conversations with the Cincinnati Bengals.

From TheHuddle

Curtis Samuel May 10 2:10pm ET

The Washington Football Team signed wide receiver Curtis Samuel to a three-year deal this offseason, reuniting him with head coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner from their time together with the Carolina Panthers. Rivera drafted Samuel in 2017, and Turner was the quarterbacks coach in Carolina from 2018-2019. "You can do a lot of different things with him," Turner said. "He's only 24 years old, I think he's just scratching the surface on what he's capable of." Samuel broke out in 2020, catching a career-high 77 passes for 851 yards and three touchdowns, adding 200 rushing yards and two more TDs. Samuel will be the No. 2 behind Terry McLaurin and will be an ideal fit for this offense. He'll be a low-end WR2 with Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing him passes.

From RotoBaller

Christian Covington May 10 2:00pm ET

The Los Angeles Chargers signed free-agent defensive tackle Christian Covington to an undisclosed deal on Monday, according to his agent. Covington was a sixth-round pick by the Houston Texans out of Rice in 2015. He's also spent time with the Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals in his six NFL seasons. Covington started 14 of the 16 games he played in for the Bengals last season and was on the field for 53 percent of the team's defensive snaps. The 27-year-old had 39 tackles (14 solo) and one QB hit. In his NFL career, Covington has 132 tackles (15 for loss), 20 QB hits, two passes defensed, one forced fumble and 8.5 sacks in 82 games (29 starts).

From RotoBaller

Tamba Hali May 10 2:00pm ET

The Kansas City Chiefs signed former linebacker Tamba Hali to a one-day contract on Monday so he can officially retire with the organization. The six-time Pro Bowler played with the Chiefs for his entire 12-year career. The 37-year-old last played in the NFL in 2017, but he made the Pro Bowl with Kansas City in five straight seasons from 2011 to 2015. He was the 20th overall pick in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft and finished his illustrious career with 596 tackles (105 for loss), 159 QB hits, two interceptions (one for a touchdown), 16 passes defensed, 33 forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries (one for a TD) and 89.5 sacks in 177 regular season games (157 starts).

From RotoBaller

Jordyn Brooks May 10 1:50pm ET

Ex-Seattle Seahawks linebacker Shaquem Griffin has drawn interest from multiple teams and should find a home soon, according to sources informed of the situation. The fifth-rounder in 2018 appeared in 46 games for the Seahawks, recording one sack, six QB hits and 25 tackles. Griffin's twin brother, Shaquill Griffin, signed a big deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason. The twins played together at UCF and in Seattle, so Griffin may be looking to join his brother in Jacksonville. His new club could be looking at him as a full-time pass-rusher after he played off the ball in Seattle. The 25-year-old became the odd-man out in Seattle after the team added Jordyn Brooks, Cody Barton and Ben Burr-Kirven to the position in recent seasons.

From RotoBaller

Carson Wentz May 10 1:40pm ET

Pro Bowl left tackle Eric Fisher is signing a one-year, $9.4 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts on Monday, according to a source. The former No. 1 overall pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013 will now be quarterback Carson Wentz's blind-side protector in 2021. The 30-year-old tore his right Achilles before the Super Bowl last year and was cut by KC. The Colts won't rush Fisher back, though, so there's a chance that he's not ready to play until early October. Coming out of this year's NFL draft, the left tackle position was still a big area of need for the Colts, but this signing takes care of that and makes their offensive line even more elite. It's excellent news as Wentz tries to bounce back from a disastrous final season with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2020. It's also great news for second-year running back Jonathan Taylor.

From RotoBaller

Antwaun Woods May 10 1:40pm ET

Former Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Antwaun Woods, who was waived last week, is visiting the Indianapolis Colts on Monday, according to a source. Woods, a former undrafted free agent out of USC, played two seasons with the Tennessee Titans before joining the Cowboys in 2018. The 6-foot-1, 310-pounder has recorded 83 tackles (25 solo), four tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, one pass defensed and two fumble recoveries in 40 career games (32 starts) with the Titans and Cowboys. Woods helped spark Dallas' midseason improvement on defense last year when he was moved into the starting lineup, and he finished with 23 tackles (seven solo), one sack and two QB pressures in 14 games (seven starts) in 2020. He'd be a rotational nose tackle for Indy if he were to sign.

From RotoBaller

Tamba Hali May 10 1:13pm ET

Free-agent LB Tamba Hali (Chiefs) signed a one-day contract with the Kansas City Chiefs Monday, May 10, so he can retire as a member of the organization.

From TheHuddle

Christian Covington May 10 1:13pm ET

Free-agent DE Christian Covington (Bengals) agreed to terms with the Los Angeles Chargers Monday, May 10. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.

From TheHuddle

Blaine Gabbert May 10 12:33pm ET

Free-agent QB Blaine Gabbert (Buccaneers) agreed to an undisclosed deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Monday, May 10.

From TheHuddle

Aaron Rodgers May 10 11:33am ET

Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers could realistically land with the Denver Broncos, who have the second-most salary cap space in football.

Fantasy Spin: Rodgers' fantasy value will be about the same wherever he calls signals next season. Denver's thin air can be brutal on a body, and Rodgers has a lengthy injury history. That would be the only concern for the upper-middle QB1.

From TheHuddle

Cole Beasley May 9 11:33pm ET

Buffalo Bills WR Cole Beasley leads all receivers with 180 catches over the last three seasons while lined up in the slot, according to Pro Football Focus.

From TheHuddle

Tyler Lockett May 9 11:23pm ET

Seattle Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett has amassed 31 catches of at least 15 yards out of the slot since the start of the 2019 season - tied for the most in the NFL over that span - according to Pro Football Focus.

From TheHuddle