I walked into my local barbershop yesterday and was greeted by a neighbor with an opening volley of “So the NFL dodges the bullet again, aye?”
I grabbed a seat an appropriate four or five feet away and questioned what exactly he was alluding to.
He posited that while basketball, hockey, NASCAR, golf, etc. are all about to get clobbered financially by the realities of the novel coronavirus, the NFL is likely to get away relatively clean.
Honestly, like all of you, even my “stick to sports” critics, my focus has been elsewhere the last week or so and I hadn’t really thought about it in those terms.
Realistically, while we don’t know what to expect tomorrow or next week right now let alone by late summer or fall, it’s safe to say nobody’s getting a pass on this one.
Most scientists I’ve read are projecting contraction of the virus in this country should peak by early May if we do all the right things, and for purposes of these thoughts I’ll stay away from the conversation about whether we are doing the right things or not right now.
But those same scientists are telling us at least a year before a vaccine arrives to prevent the spread of the virus, so just because the danger should plateau by mid-spring, it seems likely we could be avoiding mass gatherings like sporting events for the next year or more, doesn’t it?
None of us know enough to make intelligent predictions on any of this right now, but here’s what we do know.
All those other sports are getting hammered right now, and because of the timing of its season, the NFL isn’t, and even better news for the league and its fans is there really isn’t a reason to interrupt or postpone its marquee offseason attractions, free agency and the college draft.
I’ve been asked repeatedly in recent days whether the NFL should delay the start of the new league year next Wednesday, March 18th, and my best answer is another question — why?
Free agency is strictly about communication, i.e. how much money are you going to give me, and why is your city the place for me?
How many free agents can you name who’ve signed with a team in a city they had never visited or knew nothing about before negotiations began?
Ideally, teams would love to get their targets in town and talk in person, but everything can be handled via telephone and video conferencing as well.
In truth, not being able to make in-person visits might even level the playing field for a number of teams.
Sure, players will have to pass physicals, but free agent contracts always have a pending physical clause, so what difference does it make if the physicals have to wait a month or two?
How many free agents can you name who had their new contracts voided because they failed a physical?
As for the Draft, according to my sources, Las Vegas is already canceled — it just hasn’t been announced yet — and the league will announce the Draft is being postponed until late May at least — as soon as the NFLPA’s decision on the new CBA is announced.
Honestly, I think that’s a mistake. Not the Vegas part, that clearly isn’t going to happen.
But the Draft can go off without a hitch without any public gatherings and studio shows on NFL Network, ESPN, etc., and it would probably be to the benefit of all 32 teams.
Again, how many quality NFL players can you think of whose Draft stock has gone through the roof due to their combine workouts or pro days who weren’t quality players in college?
There may be some value to visits and in person interviews, but for the teams that know how to do their homework and consistently draft well, it’s really all about what you see in college game tapes, not what prospects do in shorts and T-shirts or on white boards.
What kind of football players are they, not what kind of workout warriors.
With teams that struggle in the Draft, it is often due to paralysis through analysis.
Will the NFL dodge a bullet by not playing until September? Who knows?
But there’s no reason for the league to suffer right now the way other sports are and that is very much to their advantage.