NFL broadly prohibits free-agency visits, creates vague procedure for physicals

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It’s business as unusual for the NFL.

Yes, the tampering period opened on Monday at noon ET and the league year will start on Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. ET. But the free-agency process will consist of some significant limitations.

A memo sent by the NFL’s Management Council to all teams on Monday broadly prohibits visits from or visits to free agents, including their own, until further notice.

The memo specifies that contracts may be conditioned on a physical exam, but it explains that the exam will be performed by a neutral physician in the player’s home city or nearby location. And that’s the extent of the details provided.

“The Management Council is working on developing a list of potential neutral physicians that may be willing to conduct such examinations,” the memo explains. The player may decline to undergo a neutral physical exam, but the club likewise may refrain from signing the player until he undergoes the exam or the travel restrictions are lifted.

The situation creates significant risk for the teams, who will see the physical exams shift from doctors who have an ongoing relationship with the teams for whom they work to strangers who will potentially tie the team’s hands on a multi-million-dollar contract by passing a player who should not have passed.

This hurts the players who have red flags from recent or chronic injuries, like Seahawks pass rush Jadeveon Clowney. Who will sign him without having the ability to have him poked and prodded by that team’s doctors?

But that was the only option for the NFL, which tried to balance allowing free agency to proceed against minimizing travel and social interaction. Other than delaying free agency until players can come to the team’s facility and be examined by team physicians.