How Will Coronavirus Affect NFL Offseason, Including Draft, Free Agency?

Unlike the other major sports leagues, the NFL isn’t facing the decision of whether to postpone games amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

But coronavirus could have a major impact on a vitally important period of the NFL offseason.

According to reports Thursday from The Washington Post’s Mark Maske and others, the league is “considering contingencies” for the several tentpole events set to take place within the next two months, including the annual league meeting, the 2020 NFL Draft and free agency.

The draft, which is scheduled to be held in Las Vegas from April 23 to 25, is the most visible event on that list and also the most troublesome from a spectator standpoint. The event annually attracts hundreds of thousands of fans, with a record 600,000 flocking to Nashville, Tenn., for the 2019 edition.

Several cities and states recently have taken steps to ban or discourage large gatherings, and the NCAA currently plans to play its Division I basketball tournament in empty stadiums.

“I’d be planning for the contingency to conduct the draft at the NFL Network studio or the NFL offices,” Frank Supovitz, a former head of NFL events, told The Athletic this week. “The draft is, at its core, is an essential business meeting to select college-level players. Although it would be a disappointment to the thousands of fans planning to attend the festivities in Las Vegas, as a purely operational matter, it can definitely be conducted without fans. By doing it at the NFL Network, it can still be a media event. Or, it can be done at the office on Park Avenue and the results can be announced on television, or announced by the commissioner by a remote camera.”

More COVID-19: Mark Cuban Reacts To NBA Suspending Season

COVID-19 also could alter the NFL’s extensive pre-draft process, which involves team personnel (coaches, scouts, etc.) zig-zagging across the country to attend pro days and on-campus workouts, and prospects traveling to team facilities for top-30 visits. Multiple teams already have made changes, with the Pittsburgh Steelers limiting commercial air travel for their coaches and scouts and the Philadelphia Eagles pulling its coaches off the road. (UPDATE: The Washington Redskins, too.)

Similar concerns exist on the players’ side. NFL agent Mike McCartney tweeted Thursday that he’s advising his clients not to visit with teams ahead of the draft.

Many NFL players also are scheduled to return to work within the next month. The five teams with new head coaches (New York Giants, Carolina Panthers, Redskins, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys) can begin their offseason workout programs April 6; the rest are eligible to do so on April 20.

The first order of business, though, is free agency, which is set to open next Wednesday, March 18 at 4 p.m. ET, with the league’s legal tampering period beginning Monday at noon ET. The NFL doesn’t need to worry about crowds of fans during this process, but it does involve players flying to multiple cities and visiting other team headquarters.

The NFLPA announced Thursday it was closing its office indefinitely. Now, multiple teams reportedly are considering doing the same with their facilities to prevent the spread of the virus.

The NBA suspended its season Wednesday night after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus. The following morning, the NHL canceled all morning skates and team meetings scheduled for Thursday. Then came a report from Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl that Major League Soccer was suspending its season, as well.

Thus far, the NFL has announced just one minor postponement, pushing back a Hall of Fame Fan Fest that was scheduled for March 21 and 22. But at this point, it seems inevitable that more events will be affected.

More COVID-19: Jazz Star Donovan Mitchell Reportedly Tests Positive For Coronavirus

Thumbnail photo via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports Images