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NFL Draft

What If The NFL Had A Father-Son Rule Like Australian Football?

  • The Draft Network
  • August 7, 2020
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One of the coolest parts of my job as a podcast host is getting to connect with listeners all over the world. When I turn on the mic to record, I’m not just talking to my co-host, I am talking with anyone and everyone who might listen to that episode. And the best part is they talk back.

It has been a blast getting to watch the Locked on NFL Draft Podcast grow so much over the two years I have been a part of it, and something I have really enjoyed about that is all the listeners who have reached out who I now have genuine connections with on a regular basis. 

As stated before, sometimes those friendships and connections happen beyond the borders of the United States, where I live. Because of this, when I get the pleasure of having some back-and-forth with any of our international listeners, I typically learn something new; whether that’s how football is viewed in their area of the world, to how they got into the game, or even new things about their local sports and culture beyond football.

Not too long ago, an ally of the LoND podcast, Scott Langford, introduced myself and Ben Solak (my co-host) to the world of Australian football via a Fan Friday podcast. We did some digging on it and officially chose to jump on board as fans of the sport, pledging our allegiance to the Geelong Cats of the AFL. Since then, we have tried to keep up with the games and results. I have caught a couple of games and think I really have the hang of the rules and even some of the strategies. 

Recently, another ally of the pod, Ben Lewtas, reached out to me just to chat a bit more about my newfound AFL fandom. As we got to talking, he mentioned how cool/crazy it would be if the NFL draft had the same father-son rule as the AFL draft does.

Not knowing what that was (I’m new here, okay?) I asked him to explain. Here’s how Ben explained it.

“There’s a rule in the AFL called the ‘Father-Son Rule’ where sons get drafted to the team their father played for if their father played 100 games (five seasons) for a single club.”

Wait, wait? So they just automatically get the son of a legendary father? Well, it’s not free, but they are theirs to draft if they so choose.

Though the rule has existed since the 1940s, there have been plenty of amendments to it over the years. Prior to 1997, the Father-Son Rule was indeed basically a free pass to take an eligible player, as the son of a pairing that qualified would be able to bypass the draft completely and just join the club. But, in 1997, they changed the rule to where the club was forced to use their second-round pick as payment to draft the player. So, not always an equal pick, but still something.

In 2001, the rules once again changed. Since not every son who qualified for the rule was worth a second-round pick, they tweaked the rule to say that you could only enact a father-son ruling once per year and the price was moved down to a third-round pick. However, two years later they opened it back up to multiple father-son selections per draft, with the first being a third-round pick price but the second being a second-round pick price.

2007 was the biggest change for the rule, as other clubs began to complain that certain clubs who enacted the father-son rule were getting players who were first-round caliber for much less. So, in 2007, the AFL implemented the bidding system as an amendment to the rule.

With this rule, any club could draft another club's son with one of its draft picks, but then the father's club then had the right to recruit the son by giving up its next pick.

Lewtas explained this in NFL terms using Christian McCaffrey as an example. McCaffrey’s father, Ed, played nine seasons as a wide receiver for the Denver Broncos, which would have meant, under the Father-Son Rule, the Broncos would have had the rights to Christian, his son, back during the 2017 NFL Draft.

Via the first 2007 amendment, here’s how the Father-Son Rule would have worked in the NFL for the McCaffreys. 

First, Carolina would have picked McCaffrey at No. 8 overall. Once that pick was in, then Denver would have had the option to match the bid by using their next pick, which was No. 20. If they chose to match, Carolina would go back on the clock at the same spot, but McCaffrey would be off the board and would essentially be slotted as the 20th overall pick right there, even though the order wasn’t at that point yet.

But in 2015, there were some slight changes to the Father-Son Rule. Not quite as steep as a total amendment, but some tweaks to the bidding system.

Now, as it is today, each draft pick is assigned a value, just like what you could find on an NFL draft chart; No. 1 is worth 3000 points and the point value declines exponentially until No. 74, which has no value. During the draft, any club can still draft any father-son eligible player with any draft pick. The father's club can still use it’s next closest draft pick to bring the player to their club, but then must also give up more draft picks until the total points value of the surrendered picks adds up to the value of the draft pick used.

It took some time, but here and now it feels like the AFL has a fair way to implement a pretty cool rule.

So, what NFL examples do we have throughout history? Lewtas gave us some that he’s been keeping track of using a 60-game threshold instead of a 100 games like in the AFL, since there are more games played in an AFL season. The 60 games makes the time spent with a franchise more in-line.

Post-1997 rules:

  • 1998, Peyton Manning (Archie Manning), New Orleans Saints, Pick No. 1
  • 1998, Matt Hasselbeck (Don Hasselbeck), New England Patriots, Pick No. 187
  • 1998, Brian Griese (Bob Griese), Miami Dolphins, Pick No. 91

Since those players were part of the Father-Son Rule after 1997, the clubs that were eligible to draft them under the amended Father-Son rule would have only had to give up their second-round pick. That meant, if the Saints wanted to, they could’ve had what would’ve been the No. 1 overall pick in Peyton Manning for just their second-rounder.

In 2001, the rule was amended to where you couldn’t utilize the rule twice, but the price was even cheaper. Here were the notable players who would have been eligible during that era. 

  • 2001, Marques Tuiasosopo (Manu Tuiasosopo), Seattle Seahawks, Pick No. 59
  • 2003, Chris Simms (Phil Simms), New York Giants, Pick No. 97
  • 2004, Eli Manning (Archie Manning), New Orleans Saints, Pick No. 1

The big winner here once again would have been the Saints, who could’ve had Eli Manning for the low price of their third-round pick.

In 2007, we had the implementation of the “next pick” amendment. From 2007-2015, any club that wanted to use the Father-Son rule did so using their next closest pick to where a son was selected.

Here are a few examples of eligible players drafted during that era of the rule.

  • 2007, Kellen Winslow II (Kellen Winslow), Los Angeles Chargers, Pick No. 6
  • 2008, Chris Long (Howie Long), Oakland Raiders, Pick No. 2,
  • 2008, Matthew Slater (Jackie Slater), St. Louis Rams, Pick No. 153
  • 2010, Taylor Mays (Stafford Mays), St. Louis Rams, Pick No. 49
  • 2010, Geno Atkins (Gene Atkins), New Orleans Saints, Pick No. 120
  • 2011, Cameron Jordan (Steve Jordan), Minnesota Vikings, Pick No. 24
  • 2011, Mark Ingram Jr. (Mark Ingram Sr.), New York Giants, Pick No. 28
  • 2011, Cam Heyward (Craig Heyward ), New Orleans Saints, Pick No. 31
  • 2013, Kyle Long (Howie Long), Oakland Raiders, Pick No. 20

Finally, we have the NFL examples that would go under the post-2015 era, which brought more structure to the bidding system, including teams having to use not only their next pick after a son selection, but perhaps multiple picks after that to equal the value. 

  • 2017, Christian McCaffrey (Ed McCaffrey), Denver Broncos, Pick No. 8, 1,241 points
  • 2019, D.K Metcalf (Terence Metcalf), Chicago Bears, Pick No. 64, 10 points
  • 2020, Michael Pittman Jr. (Michael Pittman Sr.), Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Pick No. 34, 542 points

We even had some examples in the most recent 2020 NFL Draft, as well.

  • Antoine Winfield Jr. (Antoine Winfield Sr.), Buffalo Bills & Minnesota Vikings, Pick No. 45, 150 points
  • Van Jefferson (Shawn Jefferson), Los Angeles Chargers & New England Patriots, Pick No. 57, next pick
  • Charlie Heck (Andy Heck), Seattle Seahawks, Pick No. 126, 0 points 
  • Collin Johnson (Johnnie Johnson), Los Angeles Rams, Pick No. 165, 0 points
  • Thad Moss (Randy Moss), Minnesota Vikings 2020, UDFA

In case like Winfield and Jefferson, where their father played an eligible amount of games for two clubs, if both clubs tried to use the rule when Jefferson was drafted, Jefferson himself would have the choice of which club he wanted to go to. Alternatively, a player can also veto the rule being used on them after they are drafted and instead stick with the other club that actually drafted them, if they so choose.

There have been two players in recent years who have been close to qualifying for the rule. Safety Jamal Adams’ father, George, played 58 games for the New York Giants, and linebacker Devin Bush Jr.’s father, Devin Bush Sr., played 56 games for the Atlanta Falcons.

For fan bases that root for storied franchises, this rule can be really cool. As much as it might be advantageous to the clubs themselves, the Father-Son Rule can bridge the fan gap between generations.

I don’t think we’ll see a rule like the AFL’s implemented in the NFL draft anytime soon, but it’s always fun to play the “what if?” game.

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