Earlier in the week, when the World Health Organization officially declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, it was only a matter of time before it impacted the sports world. While the impact of the virus far outweighs any sports news, we also realize our place, so we’ll try to “stick to sports” here.
The first ball dropped Wednesday evening when the NBA halted their season following a positive test for Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert. That was just the beginning as major sporting events were called off throughout the day on Thursday, including the NCAA basketball tournament. The NHL, MLS and XFL announced they would stop play and Major League Baseball postponed the beginning of their season.
One aspect we love about the NFL and something that has helped it to become the country’s top sport with no real competition is the fact that there really is no offseason. There are on or off-field events and news basically year-round. That also means at this time, while the spread of the virus won’t impact any NFL games (yet), it will affect other scheduled events.
Here is a quick rundown of those:
This is a prime time for scouting around the league, mostly focused on the incoming rookie class, but also including college spring football games around the country. Over half the teams in the league have announced that their scouts and coaches have been pulled off the road and will no longer be traveling to represent the teams at this time.
Several teams have also closed off their facilities to everyone except operationally critical staff. These include the 49ers, Eagles, Falcons, Chiefs, and Lions. It is safe to assume that others will have joined this list by the time you read this.
College Pro Days
Following the February NFL Combine, colleges around the country hold Pro Days in order to show off the talents of their players who are working for a spot in the NFL. While some schools have already held their respective Pro Days, many others have made the decision to cancel, including Notre Dame, Michigan, Mississippi, and USC. Alabama and Penn State have postponed their Pro Days at this time.
Beyond Pro Days and the Combine, NFL team officials get to know the incoming rookie prospects through pre-draft visits to team facilities. Those have been suspended around the league.
New League Year
While there has been a great deal of discussion, the NFL has not yet made any adjustments regarding the new league year, which is currently set to begin next Wednesday, March 18th. This means teams still have until late Monday to use their franchise tags. Some players rumored to be tagged by their teams and locked in for another year include TE Hunter Henry, WR A.J. Green, and QB Dak Prescott, which the Titans have a difficult choice between QB Ryan Tannehill and RB Derrick Henry.
The schedule also allows the infamous “legal tampering” period that will begin noon on Monday, March 16th. Teams can officially sign players to contracts beginning Wednesday at 4 p.m. eastern. Of course, this could all change very quickly, and likely will within the next few days. Mike Florio of Profootballtalk reported late Thursday that the NFL is considering delaying the start of free agency.
Annual League Meeting
The NFL’s annual league meeting was set to be held in Florida at the end of the month. This is the time owners, coaches and league officials gather to discuss many topics, including rule changes. Instead of in-person meetings, team owners and execs will participate in conference calls, while rule changes will be discussed at the spring meeting held in late May.
The ongoing talks between the owners and players’ union have gotten lost amidst the other news of the week, but that deadline remains. All players have until 11:59 p.m. on Saturday, March 14th to cast their vote on the proposed CBA. With the union electing a new president earlier this week, a no vote will reportedly cause talks to start again from ground zero.
There have been announced changes for April’s NFL Draft, which is scheduled to be held in Las Vegas. League officials are reportedly closely monitoring the situation and are working with city and state officials. With sporting events dropping quickly, expect news about the NFL Draft soon and it could bring more disappointment for NFL fans.
There was some player-related NFL news, as well:
The Bills re-signed G Quinton Spain to a three-year, $15 million contract. … NFL Network reported free-agent QB Drew Brees is willing to take a below-market deal with the Saints, potentially allowing the team to shop for other free agents. … The Titans released veteran DE Cameron Wake and RB Dion Lewis. The moves open up nearly $10 million in cap space. … Free-agent TE Jordan Reed visited the Seahawks, who have already signed veteran TE Greg Olsen this offseason. … The Patriots picked up the team option for CB Jason McCourty. … The Packers released veteran TE Jimmy Graham.