NFL teams can talk to prospective free agents about the cost of joining their side Monday morning and start signing them on Wednesday afternoon. Then it’s on, with teams committing serious cash to talented veterans in hopes of creating a championship-worthy squad.
That timetable suggests routine. The start of this NFL league year will be anything but ordinary.
The global coronavirus pandemic has forced most NFL teams to prohibit business-related travel, including football operations. It has profoundly impacted American life in general, forcing President Donald Trump to declare a national emergency.
The process of signing and wooing free agents will be altered significantly, and that goes from the big stars to the lesser-known additions that fill out a depth chart.
The Raiders have encouraged personnel to work from home and there are many who can, but the free-agent process is more than a few phone calls and faxed contracts.
It’s known that coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock will be at the team’s Alameda training complex on Monday to start speaking with potential free-agent additions, but free agency isn’t a two-man job. The Raiders' contract chief, salary-cap expert and director of pro personnel will be involved as well, dealing with agents working in locales across the country. Position coaches and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther are typically involved as well, though it’s uncertain exactly how many members of the Raiders football staff will be in Alameda to add free agents compared to those working the phones.
Eventually, a player must come to town to take a physical from team doctors to solidify contracts. That’s an important step, as the 2014 free-agent process proved. The Raiders agreed on terms of a lucrative deal with interior lineman Roger Saffold that year, only to pull the deal after he failed the physical in a shocking development.
While Mark Davis doesn’t personally have a private jet, the team can charter flights for new signings to come in for physicals – they’re normally a formality – and sign contracts. Flashy press conferences are out – big signings can sell jerseys and tickets – likely in lieu of conference calls with reporters.
That process will work with free agency’s initial waves, but what happens after that? Lower-tier options typically come in for facility visits and workouts, especially those with injury or character concerns. Those in-person visits seem less likely, with teams and players likely having to bridge the gap electronically or with workout video.
The Raiders also planned to use Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas and their new training complex in Henderson, Nev. as recruiting tools. That will be harder to do with the team’s travel restrictions in place. The general lure of Las Vegas, Nevada’s lack of a state income tax and a bunch of salary cap space should help Gruden and Mayock get the guys they want.
But, in short, everything is more complicated this year. That comes with the NFL’s somewhat surprising decision to start the league year on schedule, during a national emergency.
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It’s also important to note why there are a lot of conditionals in the paragraphs above. That’s because we’re entering uncharted waters. This coronavirus situation is fluid, with new restrictions and public health guidelines coming from local, state and national governing bodies at a rapid rate.
The Raiders, like all teams, must be ready to adjust to whatever comes next while doing whatever they can to land their desired free agents once they’re able to speak with and eventually sign them.