Although a lockout marred the 2011 NFL offseason, this year will eclipse that delayed offseason for the most unusual in the league’s modern history. Here is some of the fallout from how COVID-19 has affected the NFL during free agency and how it will impact the league going forward:
- Some teams have inserted coronavirus-triggered language into contracts. With players not permitted to visit team facilities and take physicals and teams not allowed to have staffers meet with free agent targets, some teams have included provisions into contracts indicating that failed physicals would void signing bonus money, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com reports. Players are prohibited from entering team facilities until at least April, and with this likely set to be an offseason without OTAs, it could be months before free agents take physicals with their new teams. It is not known how many teams are taking this hard-line stance, Fowler notes.
- Teams are permitted to use independent physicians for physicals, but Tom Pelissero of NFL.com notes (via Twitter) some of the league’s franchises are not comfortable doing so. The delay on physicals has led to most free agency deals yet to be officially announced. Some teams that have announced trades got around these rules. The Falcons and Ravens announced their Hayden Hurst-centered trade because Hurst took his physical before the COVID-19 rules went into effect, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes. This delay on teams’ medical staffs being able to examine players figures to keep some free agents with injury questions unsigned and has certainly impacted the Cam Newton trade market.
- Due to the stock market’s uncertainty because of coronavirus, multiple NFL owners instructed their front offices to defer signing bonus payments for as long as possible, Florio reports. Signing bonuses are committed to players when they sign, but teams often pay them in installments. Some teams are trying to push back the windows for some of the bonus money to be paid, Florio adds, noting that the Raiders are avoiding signing bonuses altogether. Las Vegas made multiple splashy signings early in free agency, but no details of signing bonuses emerged after those agreements.
- Some NFL execs were unhappy the league moved forward with free agency during this unprecedented climate in North American sports. “Tone deaf is right!” a GM told NBC Sports’ Peter King. “The world has stopped. We’re in a national emergency as a country and we do this? It’s awful. We’re telling the rest of the world we don’t care.” While the NFL provided the sports-following world with a distraction this week, the uncertainty surrounding OTAs and minicamps — and the lack of pre-draft visits and workouts — will send the league into a strange period similar to what the other major American sports are navigating because of coronavirus.
- The NFL will make some changes to the draft, and some notable unknowns still exist a month away from the annual April event.