Opinion: New Orleans Saints’ plan for NFL draft war room at a bar is dumb, dangerous

Congratulations, New Orleans Saints. You’ve finally found a way to be dumber than Mike Ditka on draft day.

The Saints are planning to hold their “war room” at the Dixie Brewery. These would be the same Saints whose coach, Sean Payton, just got the all-clear after having COVID-19. The same Saints who are based in one of the hottest spots in the country outside New York City for COVID-19 cases.

Payton says the team will follow proper social distancing and limit the number of people in the room. But that’s beside the point. The optics of this are flat-out terrible and will jeopardize health and safety in a city that can least afford it. If the Saints can’t see this themselves, then the NFL needs to shut down this awful idea.

This was always the danger in the NFL going ahead with the April 23-25 draft when the league has closed team facilities and much of the country is under stay-at-home measures for all but essential business. Which the NFL is not, despite what commissioner Roger Goodell seems to think.

“Draft war rooms brought to you by Zoom” are not going to be interesting, even if it would be entertaining to see what, if anything, Bill Belichick has in his kitchen, or watch Dave Gettleman navigate a virtual meeting with the “computer folks.” Which means teams are going to try and get creative with where their front-office personnel are located.

And that’s going to put people at risk.

COVID-19 is easily spread, and the Centers for Disease Control now warns that up to 25 percent of people infected may not show symptoms. Gathering multiple people in one space for hours upon hours, three days in a row, is asking for trouble, even if they do keep six feet between them. All it takes is one person who is unknowingly infected, and that “war room” is now a petri dish.

Even if the Saints impose strict quarantines on whomever is going to be in that war room for two weeks before the draft, what of the people setting up the room? The cameras? The phones?

That’s just team and team-affiliated personnel. You can’t tell me that Saints fans won’t decide to take a casual stroll past the Dixie Brewery in hopes of getting a glimpse of Payton or general manager Mickey Loomis, not thinking – or caring – that others will have the same idea.

Even if New Orleans police are on site to make sure that doesn’t happen, that is not where first responders should be devoting their energies.

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Just Tuesday, the NFL insisted that teams would practice “good role modeling” with their draft-day operations. Well, the Saints’ plan is the opposite of that. It’s irresponsible, and it sends a horrible message.

Conditions in Louisiana are already bad, and they’re only going to get worse. In the last two days alone, the state has added 2,399 new cases. A week ago, Louisiana had 1,795 cases total. This is the time everybody should be hunkering down at home, and watching the Saints’ brass make plans to head to a bar for the NFL draft negates the gravity of the situation.

This isn’t just a dumb idea by the Saints. It’s a dangerous one. 

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour

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