NFL rumors: Coronavirus contingency plans include games with no fans


NFL rumors: Coronavirus contingency plans include games with no fans

Home-field advantage is massive in the NFL, especially when the playoff hunt heats up in late November.

Seattle, New Orleans, Kansas City and Denver all are known for their raucous crowds that make life hell on opposing teams. But there's a possibility the 49ers and Raiders won't have to face such daunting road games during the 2020 season.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has paused the sports world. While the NFL is planning on having a 2020 season, the league reportedly is looking at all contingency plans which include playing games with half-filled stadiums or no fans at all, Mark Maske and Dave Sheinin reported Wednesday, citing league sources.

Imagine, George Kittle and Jimmy Garoppolo walking into CenturyLink Field, home of the Seahawks, and you can hear a pin drop. Or Derek Carr getting his first win at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City with no one there to see.

The NFL doesn't know exactly how things will pan out. No one does. The sports leagues are looking for a way to play, and have to be open to everything.

"I don’t know if it’ll be a one-third-filled stadium, a half-filled stadium or whatever,” an anonymous source with knowledge of the league's planning told The Washington Post. “The NFL is planning for everything from playing without fans to playing in full stadiums. We know there will be a push from the [federal] government to open things up.”

This report comes on the heels of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of the White House's coronavirus task force, saying sports could re-open but with heavy restrictions.

“There’s a way of doing that,” Fauci told Snapchat. “Nobody comes to the stadium. Put [players and other personnel] in big hotels, wherever you want to play, keep them very well surveilled [and] have them tested like every week, and make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family, and just let them play the season out. … If you could get on television, Major League Baseball, to start July 4 [even if] nobody comes to the stadium --  you just, you do it.”

The NFL has forged ahead despite the pandemic. Free agency went off as planned and the 2020 NFL Draft starts April 23, although it will be held virtually with commissioner Roger Goodell announcing the picks from his basement. The NFL had stated it planned to have the season begin on time and with fans in the stands.

That, however, isn't the league's or even federal government's call. It will be up to public health experts to determine when mass gatherings can resume.

Dr. Jeffrey Smith, a chief executive for Santa Clara County, told ESPN that the NFL starting on time would take a "minor miracle."

"It puts the entire country at risk," Smith said. "The fundamental thing is sports is not a local event. If you have people traveling from all over and you have no way of knowing whether they're infected or not -- I mean, 50,000 of them in a stadium is not a good idea."

Smith recently said he didn't expect sporting events to return before Thanksgiving, and California governor Gavin Newsom said Tuesday it's "unlikely" sports return with fans in attendance this summer.

[RELATED: NFL to hold virtual mock draft to work out 'kinks']

The NFL will do whatever it can to have a season, but it's looking more and more like fans won't be in attendance.

Playing in normally hostile arenas without fans could benefit the 49ers in their quest to win a second NFC West crown or the Raiders as they try to make it back to the playoffs for just the second time since 2002. The idea has been called "refreshing" by Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, and Kittle has said he wouldn't mind going into Seattle or New Orleans without fans.

Everyone wants sports back, but they only can return when it is safe and doctors, scientists and public health officials give the OK. Whatever guidelines they deem necessary should be followed and we'll all celebrate the return of sports in whatever manner they come.

Why Colin Cowherd would hire 49ers' Kyle Shanahan to coach his NFL team

Why Colin Cowherd would hire 49ers' Kyle Shanahan to coach his NFL team

There currently are 32 NFL franchises, and for the vast majority of us, at no point during our lives will we have any chance of owning one of them.

But, forget reality. What if you were able to purchase a team? Who would you hire as head coach?

Fox Sports' Colin Cowherd gave his answer to that question Wednesday, but first established the five criteria by which he would form his list of the top 10 coaches he'd want to lead his franchise. They were:

1. Age does not matter 
2. Easy to work with 
3. The less controversy, the better 
4. Innovative thinker 
5. Relates to players

Based on those criteria, Cowherd landed on 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan as his top choice (h/t 49ers Web Zone).

"I know he has had a couple of Super Bowl moments you don't love," Cowherd explained Wednesday on "The Herd," "but I think San Francisco was right. I think he's intense. I think he has got the lineage from his dad (Mike Shanahan). I think he has a system, but he is nimble enough to manipulate the system and listen to (general manager) John Lynch and others. I think he's obsessively driven, which is probably most of these guys.

"But if I start my franchise today, I get the (experience from his) dad, I get him, I get playoff experience, and I also think he has got a chip on his shoulder because he thinks he should have won that Super Bowl last year. And he thinks he should have won that Atlanta Super Bowl against New England when he was the [offensive coordinator]."

Though the 49ers don't have new owners, they clearly share similar feelings about Shanahan, having just recently signed him to a six-year contract extension. He led San Francisco to a nine-win improvement this past season, and already has made it clear the expectation is to get back to the Super Bowl for a second straight year.

[RELATED: Bryant Young knows 49ers in good hands with Shanahan, Lynch]

Should the 49ers accomplish that goal -- and prove victorious in Super Bowl LV -- what few criticisms there are of Shanahan no longer would be valid.

For reference, here is Cowherd's full list:

1. Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers
2. Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills 
3. Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles 
4. Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams 
5. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens 
6. Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears 
7. Brian Flores, Miami Dolphins 
8. Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma Sooners 
9. Urban Meyer, formerly Ohio State Buckeyes 
10. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

NFL rumors: George Kittle's 49ers contract could land around $13M annually

NFL rumors: George Kittle's 49ers contract could land around $13M annually

The elephant in the room at this point of the 49ers' offseason is the absence of a contract extension for standout tight end George Kittle. He is entering the final year of his rookie deal which will pay him $2.1 million, and is due to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the upcoming season.

After cementing himself as the best tight end in all of football over the last two seasons, Kittle's inevitable extension has long been expected to reset the market at the position. Austin Hooper currently averages the highest annual salary of any tight end after signing a four-year, $42 million contract with the Cleveland Browns in free agency earlier this offseason.

Estimates for what Kittle could average on his next contract have ranged as high as $20 million per season, but the real number likely is somewhere between there and Hooper's annual rate due to the expected drop in league revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Athletic's Matt Barrows reported Wednesday that someone "in the know" told him that Kittle ultimately would get a contract extension averaging $13 million per season.

That's a far cry from $20 million, but as Barrows noted, it still would make Kittle the highest-paid tight end by a fairly wide margin. Though Kittle probably is worth more than that, the salary-cap uncertainty caused by COVID-19 likely will rule out the possibility of a market-shattering contract. The unprecedented situation could result in a creative deal.

[RELATED: Report: NFL preseason halved; 49ers-Raiders game remains]

The Athletic's David Lombardi recently suggested that it might make sense for Kittle and the 49ers to come to an agreement on a contract that is partially tied to the size of the salary cap moving forward. 

"The 49ers can offer Kittle a guaranteed base annual salary or signing bonus before using a percentage-of-the-cap scale on top of that to pay him commensurate to cap increases in future years, when the NFL’s revenue outlook should be rosier," Lombardi wrote. "That's just an idea. But since this is uncharted territory, creative contract structures cannot be ruled out -- especially if they help break a potentially problematic impasse."

Creativity aside, if an agreement can't be reached on a contract extension, the 49ers would still have the ability to apply the franchise tag to Kittle -- which would pay him the average of the top five tight-end salaries -- for the 2021 and 2022 seasons. That option obviously wouldn't provide Kittle with the long-term security he likely desires, but there's ample motivation on both sides to get a deal done for San Francisco's most indispensable offensive player.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]