These are strange, unsettling times. And the NFL’s business calendar has landed smack dab in the middle of it.
In one way, the NFL is lucky that its playing season isn’t currently happening. On the other hand, the NFL seems to have no broader plan beyond watching and waiting and reacting to whatever is going on at any given moment without thinking about what may be going on next.
As of Sunday night, the NFL has decided to move forward with the start of its league year on Wednesday. This means that, as of noon ET on Monday, the NFL will allow the legal tampering window to open, and plenty of players and plenty of teams could be working out plenty of big-money contracts that will be trumpeted to anyone who cares to set aside more important concerns and hear all about it on Twitter and elsewhere.
But the league seems to know at some level that this isn’t the best approach. Otherwise, the league office wouldn’t have leaked to Schefty a nugget that blames the NFL Players Association for the failure to postpone the official start of 2020 business, and the league would have owned the decision to proceed.
As of this moment, a persuasive argument can be made to go forward. No gatherings are required, the deals will happen via cell phone device, and a delay could result in free agency happening when things are much worse.
But here’s the thing: Thing are getting worse, every hour. By Wednesday, a national quarantine may be enacted. How will those tentative deals become binding deals if physicals can’t be performed and contracts can’t be officially executed?
It’s possible that the deals will be tentatively agreed to on Monday or Tuesday, and that the inability to finalize the deals will be derailed by a national quarantine that puts everything on hold indefinitely. During that extended time between verbal and written deal, players can change their minds. More importantly, teams can change their minds, too — especially if cheaper options become available as players are released by other teams.
What if the draft happens before the deals are finalized? What if a team has a rookie fall into their laps that allows that team to back out of an unofficial deal with a much more expensive veteran? Will that team take the rookie and then say to the veteran, “Sorry, the deal wasn’t official until it was signed”?
Meanwhile, the plan to move forward with the new league year as scheduled isn’t set in stone. Per a league source, discussions between the NFL and the NFLPA are expected to resume on Monday, as new information comes in and decisions potentially are revised.
In theory, those conversations can happen even after the legal tampering window opens. That possibility could cause some teams to not jump into the free-agency pool as aggressively as they otherwise would.
Regardless, the times we’ve been given are giving the NFL an unprecedented challenge, and it’s unclear what will be done or when it will be done or who will be doing it or who will be making the decision or where the person is who runs the sport. It’s impossible for the NFL to conduct business as usual in these unusual times, and the end result may reflect the upside-down nature of our world, which seems to be changing with every tick of the clock.