Duke Tobin vowed not to break news during Thursday's news conference on his Anderson Township porch, but he did break ground when he offered a virtual tour of the first remote Bengals draft room in history set for next Thursday night's first round.
Calling it "Draft Room East," Tobin, the club's director of player personnel, offered a desk surrounded by three monitors, a layout that probably won't go into action until Friday night's second round because everyone is assuming the Bengals have already settled on LSU quarterback Joe Burrow at No. 1.
To Tobin's left is the screen where the draft picks are listed in real time. In the middle is the screen where he's connected to the other two draft hubs belonging to Bengals president Mike Brown and head coach Zac Taylor and where the faces belonging to Tobin's scouts and Taylor's coordinators pop in. Then to the right is the big board where the Bengals have ranked the prospects.
And if you think the Bengals have the critics looking over their shoulder with the first pick in all seven rounds, that's nothing. Glowering in a corner is a light pole and camera.
"That's courtesy of big brother, that's the NFL looking in on me," Tobin said as he glanced around his porch. "It's not very big, but it's kind of a scout's dream. You go through the draft all by yourself."
If next weekend's draft is "a scout's dream," the Bengals look to have a heavenly scenario fraught with advantages when it comes to their position, the board of prospects and the circumstances that have evolved from the pandemic's restrictions :
_They've got the No. 1 pick in a draft where there is a quarterback in Burrow that is the clear-cut best offensive player on the board who plays a game-changing position.
Tobin didn't say he'll be a Bengal a week from now, but he did offer that Burrow, "Loves the grind," and that's exactly what the Bengals are looking for in a franchise quarterback that's as effective in the locker room as he is in the pocket.
_In the place of prospects visiting teams or hosting workouts, the Bengals and the rest of the NFL were allowed to call prospects three times a week for an hour each call. So they had even more chances to vet quarterbacks with face-to-face interviews or grease board sessions, much more opportunity than they had with private workouts or one mandated facility visit.
"We've taken advantage of that with a lot of players to get to know them, to kind of understand how they see football and what kind of personalities they have," Tobin said. . "Our coaches have done a good job meeting with (Burrow) and other players as well. Just the personality comes across, the coachability comes across the more you talk to these players and how they see football; what they like and dislike about the game of football. Whether depending on the position they play what they're comfortable doing and what is new to them and what is maybe uncomfortable and how that would fit with your schematics and what you want to do as a football team and you try to kind of find commonalities."
_Since they have the first pick in every round, that means they have the first pick Thursday and Friday nights and Saturday morning. So they'll avoid any chaos or glitches of a first-time operation as they scan their board and ponder trades.
"In a year like this, in a virtual draft, that's an advantage," Tobin said. "It's an advantage that we unfortunately earned. But it is an advantage. It gives us an opportunity to really meet as a group and sketch out the day".
_When most of the campus workouts were scrubbed in mid-March, the Bengals' experience of coaching and coaching against more than 100 prospects in the Senior Bowl gave them a leg up on all but one team that didn't have a chance to put hands on any one after the NFL scouting combine.
"It's new for everybody. But the guys that we got to meet at the Senior Bowl, there were a lot of guys down there that we came away with positive feelings for," Tobin said. "And actually having the opportunity to work with them for a full week, that gives us an insight into their personalities and so forth. So that was a good opportunity for sure."
_Since they pick first in the seventh round with the 215th pick and have only one pick in the round, they'll have the most time to get organized for the ensuing Wild, Wild West of undrafted free agency that theoretically starts the instant the Giants select Mr. Irrelevant at No. 255.
But on Thursday Tobin reiterated the rules that the Bengals aren't allowed to reach a deal or even negotiate with players until the draft ends. Plus, he knows 40 more players are going off the board after the Bengals make their last pick, so who knows who's left?
But they can use the extra time to get their ducks in a row because this part of the draft is always tougher than the draft itself even if it's not virtual. The same challenges exist with a finite salary cap, number that shifts with each deal. Traditionally the Bengals have teamed a position coach with a front office exec or scout to bridge communications with the numbers.
So after the draft promises to be the toughest part of the day.
"It'll be a little different. We're going to do it in a way that's pretty standard to what we have done, we just won't be in the same room," Tobin said. "The communication of when one gets done and how you handle the money… There's a finite amount of money that you can spend on college free agents. When you agree with one person that takes the total down. That's the toughest logistical part is when we're getting agreements, making sure that everybody is aware of it and managing the overall sum of money that we have to spend."
Tobin agrees with the theory that their free-agency blitz (six starters, five on defense while committing more than $150 million) has allowed more flexibility in the draft and he paused to shout out the organization of pro scouting director Steven Radicevic, architect of the haul that broke a club record for free-agent money.
But Tobin says to read into it as a shift away from the Bengals' sign-your-own philosophy of free agency is a mistake.
"I don't know that it's a philosophy. Each year your team is different and has different needs, and there are different ways to address those needs," Tobin said. "This year, we determined that we had the need to bring in a number of veteran players if we could. It doesn't always work out. Free agency is as hard to predict as the draft because you don't know when you're going to get a yes and when you're not going to get a yes … you really don't know until it kicks off where you're going to get those yeses, and our coaches did a great job after we got kicked off. We were able to reach out to some of these other players about selling our organization and what we're doing, and I think that made a difference."
Even though the far-ranging session inched past a half-hour, Tobin was true to his word and didn't break news. He reiterated the club's off-season stance that they expect franchise player A.J. Green to be in the middle of it all in 2020 and they hope to respectfully resolve Andy Dalton's status in what would appear to be a trade. But he had no updates on either player.
He admitted it's not easy negotiating contracts in an environment where no one knows when the season begins. It's just another indication that after next weekend and the schedule release next month, there aren't a lot of knowns.
"We've been proceeding this offseason as if there's going to be a season and we don't control whether that's going to be the case or not. It's really not at my level. My level is to try to build the best team possible and we're proceeding as we need to accomplish that goal," Tobin said. "We're going to try and communicate with our players the best way we can, teach our players the best way we can and hopefully welcome them back as soon as we can."