As American citizens continue to come to grips with the dramatic changes to daily life arising from the coronavirus, NFL teams will very soon be courting and signing free agents to multi-million-dollar contracts.
Via Adam Schefter of ESPN, the NFL has “no plans” to move the start of the league year. This means that free agency will begin as scheduled on Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. ET, and that as a practical matter free agency will start at 12:00 p.m. ET on Monday, when teams may begin making offers and reaching agreements in principle with impending free agents.
The key phrase is “no plans.” The league used that same phrase a week ago, regarding the potential adjustment of the franchise-tag deadline. And then the league adjusted the franchise-tag deadline.
Nine years ago, free agency happened in early August, after the lockout ended and a new CBA was signed. If free agency can be delayed by more than four months for labor reasons, free agency can be delayed by a couple of weeks or a month for public-health reasons.
Beyond the fact that free agency often entails visits to teams (which shouldn’t be happening now), the question becomes whether fans will care as much about free agency if it happens next week, than if it happens later in the spring. It’s a major offseason tent-pole, and what would have been one of the most fascinating free-agency periods in league history could become an afterthought.
Some would say that free agency needs to unfold well before the draft happens. But the draft also can be delayed to create enough of a spread between the two events, or the draft can happen before free agency.
That’s precisely what transpired during the lockout. The draft went on as scheduled in April, and free agency happened several months later. Again, if the NFL is willing to take unusual steps during a fairly ordinary labor dispute, it should be willing to consider taking unusual steps during extremely extraordinary times.