Andrew Gribble of AL.com:
[Alabama head football coach Nick] Saban offered his support for all five – some, perhaps, more than others – but didn’t hold back when he was asked to share his opinion on the trend as a whole.
“I don’t think the NFL really wants this, I don’t really think the colleges want this,” Saban said. “I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the players and I don’t know what the solution to the problem really is.”
This year a record 98 underclassmen entered the NFL draft, an almost 35% increase over last year then-record 73 early entries. Of those 73 early entries, 21 went undrafted, and it would seem logical that number will rise this year again.
The issue is that the NFL is out of easy ideas. If the NBA wants more athletes to say in college longer, it simply has to raise the draft age minimum. The NFL already requires waiting three years; any longer would eliminate early entry at all for many college football players.
One possibility would be for the NFL to start handpicking its early entry candidates. Imagine a system where after three years, college football players had to apply for a rating from the NFL’s draft advisory board and only those projected in the first three (two? one?) rounds would be eligible to enter the draft.
There are two problems with the NFL making its draft any more restrictive. First, it would require a change to the collective bargaining agreement. That agreement is not up until after the 2020 season. Both the league and the players would have to want to reopen labor talks at a time when neither has any motivation to do so.
Second is that making the NFL’s already restrictive early entry rules (compared to say the NBA) even tighter is bound to draw a legal challenge. Especially if the NFL went to a system where the league and owners had the power to manipulate which players could enter the draft. The NFL also does not have the extra protections of a single entity structure like MLS which may allow it to use a similar early entry system.
So while the bad news is that the NFL has few obvious fixes to try, it also has a long time to think up a solution. In the meantime though, expect early NFL entries to stay at these higher levels if not continue to rise significantly, meaning we will hear plenty more about this before the next NFL labor negotiations.