How coronavirus is affecting the NFL’s offseason schedule

1195287358.jpg.0 - How coronavirus is affecting the NFL’s offseason schedulePhoto by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NFL’s annual league meeting has been cancelled, and teams have suspended travel for scouting.

NFL teams across the league have begun taking precautions in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States and across the globe. The virus had already caused disruptions in multiple sports, including the cancellation of conference college basketball tournaments. The NBA also suspended its season indefinitely after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for the virus, and the NHL and MLS have followed suit.

How much it will directly affect the NFL’s offseason schedule remains to be seen. For now, most of the major events will go on as planned. The voting period on the new collective bargaining agreement is supposed to end March 14. The NFL’s free agency period will start on March 18 at 4 p.m. ET. The NFL Draft begins on April 23 from Las Vegas.

However, the NFL’s annual meeting, which was scheduled for March 29-April 1 in Palm Beach, Florida, has been cancelled. Additionally there are some changes that have been made with most of them relating to the pre-draft process. The league has also encouraged team staff members to work from home until further notice.

Let’s run through how teams and various league events have been affected by COVID-19.

Free agency is still on for now

For now, the NFL plans to continue with the free agency period and the league’s new year as scheduled.

The deadline for teams to franchise tag players is Monday, March 16, at 11:59:59 a.m. ET, which was extended due to the ongoing CBA negotiations. Clubs are permitted to contact players set to become unrestricted free agents after noon on March 16.

Transactions can become official at the start of the new league year, at 4 p.m. ET on March 18. While a signed contract will be required to finalize agreements between players and teams, most of the negotiations between free agents and their 2020 destinations can take place remotely via phone or video chats.

The league has not officially barred anyone from traveling to meet for free agency purposes, but teams and players may individually decide to negotiate remotely. The question now is whether the NFL will make accommodations for players to sign contracts without having to make an in-person visit with their new clubs. Players need to pass a physical before their deals are finalized. But if players aren’t traveling, it’s possible these won’t be completely done for some time.

Some pro days have been affected

Every year, pro days have been held at universities in early March ahead of the draft in April.

On March 11, some NFL teams were already taking travel precautions ahead of the NFL’s free agency and the draft. NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported that the Pittsburgh Steelers were limiting commercial flights for coaches and scouts, and a couple other teams were responding to Covid-19. Another report from Yahoo Sports added that the Eagles had also pulled their coaches off the road from the pro-day circuit temporarily.

Some schools announced cancellations for their pro days, including Illinois, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, and USC. Alabama has postponed its pro day to April 9. Penn State postponed its pro day as well. Clemson still held its on March 12.

Pre-draft visits have also been cancelled

NFL teams are permitted to schedule 30 pre-draft visits every year, which allow them to meet with prospects and have them undergo medical evaluations. The league has suspended those, according to one agent:

One NFL agent encouraged players to avoid traveling for team visits before the league announced their cancellations.

Some NFL scouting and team evaluations are on hold, too

Multiple teams have officially announced they are suspending travel for their scouts and coaches including:

  • Cleveland Browns
  • Carolina Panthers
  • Miami Dolphins
  • Minnesota Vikings
  • New York Giants
  • New York Jets
  • Philadelphia Eagles
  • Washington

Teams have also reportedly considered shutting down their workout facilities for the time being, and the Eagles announced theirs will be closed.

The annual league meeting has been cancelled

Every March, NFL owners and coaches gather to discuss the season that was, and the year ahead. Various conversations take place regarding rule changes and tweaks that can improve the game overall. Here’s the NFL’s statement on the cancellation:

The meeting also serves the backdrop for several votes on new rules that affect the on-field product of the NFL. Last year’s controversial decision to make pass interference reviewable started with a yes vote at the annual event.

Instead of meeting in March, NFL owners, head coaches, and general managers will all gather during the spring meeting on May 19-20. There, they will discuss the proposed rules and put them up for a vote. Those include rules about blindside blocking, the onside kick, automatic replay, and more:

See the NFL’s full list of proposals here.

No changes have been made to the 2020 NFL Draft yet

The NFL Draft is scheduled for April 23-25 in Las Vegas, the first time the city has hosted. League officials are reportedly closely monitoring the Covid-19 virus. Here’s more from the Dallas Morning News:

While a new plan has not been formally developed, NFL officials are closely monitoring a public health situation that is progressively reaching and impacting the sports landscape in America.

[…]

“The league office, the players association and the city and the state are working together,” Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis said in a phone interview. “They’re making a measured decision. Health and safety will always be No. 1.”

We will update this story with any further information as it develops.

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