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 and draft-eligible prospects. But the league 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 FirstEngergy Stadium, 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. (Photo: Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports)
Goodell and a select number of prospects will take the stage. Fans and media will also attend with NFL Network, ESPN and ABC televising the league's marquee offseason production. Portions of the draft will again take place remotely, including at homes of some prospects.
To further the league's efforts in promoting the importance of getting the COVID-19 vaccine, and consistent with CDC 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.
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" NFL executive vice president of club business and league events Peter O’Reilly said in a press release.
"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."
Follow USA TODAY Sports NFL columnists Nate Davis and Mike Jones on Twitter @ByNateDavis and @ByMikeJones and listen to the Football Jones podcast on iTunes.
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