NFL announces plans to move forward with 2021 draft in Cleveland while following COVID-19 protocols

Cleveland, you rock. Also – you're on the clock.

The NFL's foray into the virtual draft environment will apparently be a one-and-done endeavor, the league announcing Monday that it will move forward – as scheduled – by staging the 2021 draft in Cleveland from April 29 to May 1.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the 2020 NFL draft out of Las Vegas and into the homes of Commissioner Roger Goodell, draft-eligible prospects, as well as team and league executives. But the NFL plans a return to its recent modus operandi by holding the event – this year will mark the 86th draft – throughout one of its club's markets.

A degree of uncertainty had loomed over the proceedings prior to Monday’s announcement, which revealed this draft will occur across downtown Cleveland locations that include FirstEnergy Stadium (home of the Browns), the Great Lakes Science Center and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – yes, meaning headline musical acts will also be integrated into the show.

Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will be part of this year's NFL draft backdrop.

“This year – probably more than ever – is about coming together and signaling a brighter future and communities being able to come together safely," said NFL executive vice president of club business and league events Peter O’Reilly in a conference call with reporters. 

"And we hope to play a small part in that.” 

Goodell and a select number of prospects will take the stage to kick off the first round April 29. Fans and media will also be in attendance with NFL Network, ESPN and ABC televising the league's marquee offseason production. Portions of the draft will again take place remotely, including at the homes of some prospects.

To further the league's efforts in promoting the importance of getting the COVID-19 vaccine (and consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance), fans selected to sit in the "Inner Circle" – an area near the stage with predetermined "draft ambassadors" for all 32 clubs – must be fully vaccinated. 

However masks will be required of all on-site fans, even if they’re vaccinated. The NFL has not yet determined how many will be allowed to attend, but information will be forthcoming as discussions evolve with city officials and the CDC.

Last year, Goodell announced picks on camera from his suburban New York home. General managers and coaches were depicted making selections from their own homes as their draft deliberations took place over Zoom. Players were filmed with family members. 

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But now, a large degree of normalcy will return after the league successfully pulled off an uninterrupted regular season, postseason and Super Bowl – which featured roughly 25,000 attending fans. Front office personnel participating in the draft will be allowed to operate from club facilities this year.

"We are thrilled to be heading to Cleveland for the NFL Draft, which has become one of the most highly anticipated events in sports" O’Reilly said in a press release earlier Monday.

"Just months after executing a safe and successful Super Bowl LV, we look forward to bringing the excitement of our Draft traditions to fans in collaboration with the Browns, Destination Cleveland, Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, the City of Cleveland, and all of our local Cleveland partners."


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