The NFL “league year” doesn’t begin when the regular football season starts. Nor does it begin with the Hall of Fame pre-season game or the opening of training camps.
The NFL deems its “league year” to start when the scramble for free agents commences. That’s scheduled for tomorrow with the beginning of the “legal tampering” period.
Hard core NFL fans look forward to this day every year. This year, with sports fans, starved of actual games, even some non-hard core NFL fans — not to mention sports page editors and sports talk radio hosts — are looking forward to it.
But will the NFL delay the free agent scramble this year because of the Wuhan coronavirus?
One would think not. Free agency doesn’t involve fans gathering, nor does it entail close contact among players.
On the other hand, free agency typically involves players flying to and from various cities (often more than one for coveted players) to check out team facilities, coaches, and upper management, and to negotiate a deal. In addition, teams check out players through physical examinations.
Commercial flying has become a risky proposition. In addition, close contact among potential signees, coaches, team execs, and doctors is not without risk.
These concerns should not deter the NFL from proceeding with free agency, though. Flying is the only risk that seems at all substantial. That risk can be minimized by using private jets. Some teams already use them to bring free agents in quickly and to impress these players.
It has been suggested that it won’t look good to hand out huge contracts during a pandemic in which sectors of the economy are starting to experience hardship. I don’t think so, as long as the contract signings are conducted in a low-key manner.
In any case, big contracts are already being signed, as teams work to prevent certain players from becoming available in free agency. For example, quarterback Ryan Tannehill, cast off by the Dolphins and holding down a backup position with the Titans during the first half of last season, just signed a contract extension that will keep him in Tennessee. The deal is for $118 million over four years.
Some might question the wisdom of the contract, but I doubt that anyone resents it because of the coronavirus.
There’s also the question of “if not now, when?” The pandemic is almost certain to get considerably worse before it abates. The NFL might as well get on with free agency before infections become more widespread.
Reports suggest that the NFL probably will.
UPDATE: The NFL says it will proceed with free agency. For now, at least.
The NFL says the Players Association wouldn’t agree to postpone free agency.
The communications needed to consummate deals will probably be done remotely. Physical exams might have to be deferred.