Smith, NFLPTA Fold Draft-Night Plan

National Football League Draft (AP Photo)

NFLPTA buries plan to interrupt league's draft-day extravaganza after overwhelming opposition.

Summarily buffeted in this space for his rudderless approach in pied-pipering league players straight into a lockout, maybe it's time to loosen up and provide De(Certification ) Smith, the NFLPTA ex-ecutive director, some credit for a change.

When it comes to "suggesting" that likely first-round prospects bypass the annual league photo-op and shaking hands with commissioner Roger Goodell -- and instead participate in a trade association-sponsored gala where they would be "welcomed" by future teammates -- De(Certification) and his legion of NFLPTA lieutenants folded a losing hand.

In the ongoing battle for minds and hearts that is an undeniable component of the league's current labor strife, the public relations pendulum has swayed back and forth, alternating between the owners and the players and sometimes depending on the rhetorical skills or press-release adroitness of the designated messengers. But in matters related to the draft, the lone rite of spring left pretty much undisturbed by the lockout, and maybe a last remaining shard of driftwood to which desperate NFL fans might cling for some semblance of normalcy, there was no split decision.

From the moment NFLPTA minister of propaganda George Atallah (note, George: your name is spelled correctly) leaked word to his band of media friendlies that the players association was plotting to scuttle the league's three-day draft party April 28-30, the plan was greeted with all the ardor of, say, Obamacare.

It has been a constant of the current NFLPTA administration that, when it comes to words, to rattling off Don King-style rants by its officials and even some mindless Twitters by its misguided but still opinionated rank-and-file, it can be relatively mesmerizing. Planning? Uh, not exactly a strong suit. The draft fiasco is a graphic example of the NFLPTA's shortcomings: A well-crafted blueprint was never drawn up to match the bluster.

Unlike its failed, words-are-more-impressive-than-deeds approach to negotiations for a new collective bargaining accord, the NFLPTA had no courtroom fallback when its draft plans were castigated by fans and players. As powerful as he has been in nearly two decades of presiding over labor squabbles, as dependable an ally as the players could muster since extracting new freedoms in the Reggie White lawsuit in 1993, Judge David Doty couldn't help this time.

There are no tortes, apparently, to save the NFLPTA from its own poor judgment.

Reacting to the firestorm of criticism that has emanated from just about every corner the past few weeks, the NFLPTA has announced that whatever it plans now for draft weekend won't interfere with the league activities. In the streets, if not necessarily at high-level who-blinks-first negotiations, that's known as face-saving. C'mon, do you really think the trade association's original plans weren't to screw with the league's welcome-wagon festivities as much as possible? Like a lot of purported brainstorms, though, the idea proved a faulty one.

In recent days, at least three likely first-round prospects -- LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, wide receiver Julio Jones of Alabama, and Florida guard Mike Pouncey -- all acknowledged that they wanted to attend the draft, if invited. Notable is that Pouncey is represented by Joel Segal, one of the "Big Four" agents trotted out by the NFLPTA at the combine last month in a sham display of unity. Notable as well is that, at least publicly, most agents haven't defected and have actually championed the trade association's draft-snub strategy. But as the agents are finding out -- just as the NFLPTA discovered with players who are Twitter-addicted -- sometimes you can't successfully subvert everyone's true feelings.

Sometimes you overestimate your own control or misread your own importance in an event. In the case of the draft, the NFLPTA did both.

Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.

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