Los Angeles: With postponements and cancellations happening all over the sports world, the NFL has responded with three surprising words: Business as usual.
The league resisted the urge to delay Wednesday’s start of the league year, the annual beginning of the free-agent signing period, and stayed on track even as it weighed the possibility of moving the April 23-25 draft in Las Vegas amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Free agency officially begins Wednesday at 4pm EDT, but noon on Monday marks the beginning of the legal-tampering period, during which teams can discuss the parameter of deals with prospective signees.
Many teams anticipated the league would wait until the new collective bargaining agreement was ratified Saturday night, which it was, then postpone free agency. Already, because of COVID-19 concerns, teams have been banned from bringing in free agents and draft prospects for visits. What’s more, the optics are not ideal of players signing deals worth tens of millions of dollars in the throes of the nation’s financial uncertainty.
According to an ESPN report, the NFL Players Association would not provide consent to move the start of the new league year.
The decision on the Las Vegas draft is particularly complex. The original plan calls for clusters of at least 100 fans representing each franchise positioned in sections closest to the stage to cheer their team for the TV cameras. That flies in the face of all the advisories about social distancing and avoiding unnecessary travel.
If the league were to keep the current date and make the draft even more of a made-for-TV event, with closer camera angles on the players that crop out the nonexistent crowd, that still would require everyone involved to be tested for coronavirus. That means testing everyone involved with the production, including media. Of course, those tests are not currently available.
For many reasons, the safest course of action might be to push back the draft, perhaps into May, which could allow for the prospects to make the traditional team visits that the NFL currently has banned.
Any time a major event is delayed in a city there is the potential for complications and clashes regarding scheduling. Is the venue available at that time? Are there enough hotel rooms? Las Vegas is a city built to host major happenings such as these, so that might not be an issue, but those are among the possibilities being discussed by league officials.