FMIA: NFL In Unprecedented Times, With Impact of Coronavirus Colliding With Free Agency, Draft, Labor Peace

A week or so after the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks in 2001, New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani appealed to those who lived in the area to come back into New York to support the caving local economy. Go to Broadway shows, go to ballgames, eat in Manhattan restaurants. Live, people. Live! I lived in nearby Montclair, N.J., at the time, and put together an outing of 19 of us (as I recall), to go into the city on Sept. 21 to eat at rollicking Carmine’s in Times Square. It was a lovely evening, kids and families so happy to be New York Strong.

An hour into our meal, there was a buzz at the front of the huge Italian restaurant, and people began standing and clapping. Soon, as about 15 firefighters from the Buffalo Fire Department, in full uniform and covered with soot and dirt, made their way to the back of the place near our table, everyone in the place was standing and clapping for the Buffalo folks. We bought a round for the exhausted group, and one of them came to our table to thank us. He explained that they’d all taken vacation time from their Buffalo firehouses and come to New York because they knew help was needed at the pile, and they’d been there a few days, working long hours. And Carmine’s was good enough to feed any firefighter or police officer working at the site. Then he pulled out two Buffalo Fire Department patches to give to my daughter Mary Beth and her friend Steffi.

Now that man, and his 14 peers, were heroes.

Over the past few days, I’ve thought of that story, at a time of a national crisis. I’ve thought of heroes. I’ve thought that heroes today do not have to fight fires. They have to help their neighbors. They have to stay away from crowds. Pretty simple. Pretty true. Little acts can be heroic acts.

The woman in Bend, Ore., Rebecca Mehra, walking toward a grocery store and hearing the faint shout of an older lady in her car, and going to the car, and hearing the woman say she and her husband were afraid to go into the store because of the risk of the coronavirus to the elderly . . . and holding out a $100 bill and a grocery list and asking Rebecca Mehra if she would shop for them. And Rebecca Mehra shopping and returning to the car in a few minutes and putting the bags in the trunk and handing the older lady her change. That’s a hero, today.

And the man in Metairie, La., who couldn’t wait to march in a St. Patrick’s parade and have a drink or three with friends at a local bar, to celebrate his birthday and St. Pat’s Day. The parade got called off because of coronavirus, but the drinking was still on. Then a good friend texted him to advise him to think about not going to the bar with his pals. It was non-judgmental, just advice from a friend, and the buddy said, “Happy birthday old friend.” The Metairie man thought about it, and thought about his wife and his four children.

He stayed home. He and his wife decided to spend the coronavirus days, as long as they last, with their home-bound kids, playing with them and schooling them.

Saints punter Thomas Morstead.

“The world’s a totally different place than it was a week ago, and who knows what the world will be like a week from now?” Morstead told me Sunday, the shouts of kids heard in the background. “But as much as we can, we want to change the trajectory of his virus. We’re not going into public spaces. We’ve got no clue where we’re headed, but we’re going to do the right things, as much as we can.”

It’s a little act, and a heroic one. We need those today.

The Lead: Uncertainty

I made a list of stories to cover in the column Sunday evening, a Sunday evening in the middle of the offseason, and number nine was about a guy traded for a bag of footballs a year ago getting a $118-million contract to play quarterback for a 2019 final-four team.

My top 10 stories for March 16, 2020:

1. Be a simple hero. The NFL, and the world, in the grips of the coronavirus.
2. The confluence. Never, ever, have I seen a more frenetic offseason week.
3. The NFL’s medical director speaks. Why the league killed player visits to teams.
4. Forever labor peace. The new CBA, through 2030.
5. The league year as a steamroller. Tone-deaf, maybe, but 2020 plows ahead. Not all are happy.
6. The draft is doomed. At least as a mega-event it is.
7. Is the Brady market crapping out? Sure looks like it.
8. Could a big star be on the move? The interesting case of DeAndre Hopkins.
9. Ryan Tannehill strikes it rich. The sentence that shocks the world.
10. Free agency preview. Who loves Clowney? Seattle and who else?

Oh, and the best 3-4 end in football got traded Sunday.

Late Sunday night before he turned in, agent Drew Rosenhaus considered the landscape of the league he’s worked in for three decades.

“What’s happened in the two or three days, but especially the last 24 hours, is mind-boggling,” Rosenhaus said. “The vote for the new CBA was so close, and no one knew if it’d pass or fail, and now there’s a new labor agreement through 2030. Until a couple of hours ago, we didn’t know if there’d be free agency this week, or anytime soon. This coronavirus, no one knows what’s going to happen with that. How will teams do physicals, sign contracts with free agents, will we be doing business on Skype or in person, how will teams get to investigate rookies before the draft, when will the draft be . . . I mean, when has there ever been so much happening all at the same time? It’s all virgin territory for all of us. It’s unprecedented in my 32 years as an agent.”

This life is unprecedented too.

“The NFL sees itself just like every other segment of society,” the league’s medical director, Allen Sills, told me Sunday afternoon. “That we need to be responsible citizens and so do our part to blunt the spread of this pandemic. The good of the public health is certainly our number one goal and we’ll be guided by that and by the current state of the science as we make these recommendations going forward.”

The major decision so far came Friday, with the NFL shutting down trips to team facilities by prospective rookies. These “top 30 visits”—each team gets to host up to 30 prospective draftees for interviews, perhaps a meal, and medical probing—might not seem like a big deal, and in the grand scheme they aren’t. But ask Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes about the latter’s top-30 visit three years ago. Reid will tell you it clinched the Chiefs’ decision to draft Mahomes if they could; Mahomes told his father it’s the day he knew he wanted to play in Kansas City for Reid. Those visits aren’t just for the stars—they’re for players who might not have gone to the combine, or who have checkered pasts. The top-30 visit is when the Patriots knew they wanted to draft medically red-flagged Rob Gronkowski.

“Obviously in these times when we’re all trying to do our part to avoid community transmission,” said Sills, “we didn’t want to be in a position of asking young men to fly around the country or to have to show up to all these facilities because obviously airline travel and going to a number of these different places certainly puts the players at higher risk. We did not want to put them in a situation where we felt like we were elevating their risk above what it would be in the community.

“Similarly for the teams, I think it’s been important that the team personnel feel that they were going be missing out. If it were not a league-wide ban, certainly you would have organizations that would have to make their own decisions. We didn’t want anyone to feel that they were put in a position where they would go out and have to be exposed simply for the goal of not getting behind or falling behind competitively.”

On Sunday night, after discussions between the NFL and NFLPA for much of the day, it was determined the league year would begin as scheduled Wednesday at 4 p.m. But there still could be a tussle over some issues related to that. For instance: How will a team that might be able to reach financial terms via Skype or the phone with a player and his agent be able to do a physical with a player? All deals are contingent on a player passing a team physical; with some players coming off surgery, that’s much more than a formality.

I was told Sunday evening that, until players are allowed to travel to team facilities, physicals might either be on hold or teams might have to make their decision based on the player’s previous end-of-year physical. One GM I spoke with was angry when that topic was broached. The situation was shrouded in doubt as of late Sunday night.

For now, the NFL, led by Sills, seems to be concentrating on the much bigger picture. “This is a virus for which there’s not a vaccine, for which there’s not real treatment, and for which there’s not any immunity in the community,” Sills said. “Those are the unique features of this. And then of course the rapidity with which it spread around the world. That’s what I think has made this such an unusual epidemic compared to other epidemics. So those are really the important features.

“When you start talking about contact sports, that’s really a minor piece of it related to the overall bigger piece of the public health which is the real concern here, right? I think each segment of society has to look at its own responsibilities and obligations in regard to the transmission. . . . What can we all do to reduce that spread and that transmission to the slowest and least penetration possible?”

I asked Sills what NFL players should be most cognizant of in the next few weeks.

“Every NFL player should be just like everyone in the general public, which is to heed the updated recommendations that are coming out from the Centers for Disease Control and our public health leaders. We all hope and pray that [the disease lasts] for a short time period, that we’re able to start getting back to normal routines. We will do that in a thoughtful and collaborative way that’s driven solely by the science and the public health recommendations, not by anything else.”

CBA: What Vote Means


The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement was approved by 60 votes. Of the approximately 2,500 players eligible to vote (if you were on a practice squad for one week in 2019, you counted the same as Aaron Rodgers), 1,978 men voted . . . a 79.1 percent voter turnout. Or 18 percent more than voted in the 2016 presidential election. The big issue to me isn’t that one of five NFL players sat this crucial election out; it’s that 48.5 percent of the voters said no to the deal. The naysayers hate the fact that there will be a 17th regular-season game, likely beginning in 2021, and think union boss De Smith caved too easily to the 17th-game demand.

“I can respect guys voting no because of that,” said Saints punter Thomas Morstead, a member of the league’s 10-man Executive Committee, which helped negotiate the deal with NFL owners. “The owners felt the current model was broken and they had to have 17 games. The Executive Committee’s job is to negotiate the best deal they can, and put that in front of the players. I think that’s what we did.”

Now that’s it official, here are the rules the NFL will be playing under for the longest CBA in league history, the next 11 seasons:

• Playoffs. The new 14-team playoffs, with the top seed in each conference getting the only byes, will very likely begin this season. The league will most likely play three first-round games on Saturday and three on Sunday of wild-card weekend, though the league might decide to go 2-3-1: two Saturday, three Sunday and one on Monday night.

• The 17th game. I won’t be surprised if a smart coach says to his five or six most senior every-down players, I’ll try to find 50 to 60 snaps to pull you during the season, so you’re not playing 17 full games—you’d be playing the equivalent of 16. For now, the league is operating on the belief that all NFC teams one season will play nine home games and eight on the road one year, and the next year, all AFC teams will be home nine times and away eight. And no, there won’t be neutral-site games, or a huge increase in games outside the United States. The 16 additional games could be used, all or in part, to create a lucrative new package of games to be streamed by an Amazon or Facebook, a deep-pocketed new media company.

• New minimums. Rookie minimum salaries, scheduled to be $510,000 in 2020 under the last year of the old CBA, now go up to $610,000. By the last year of the deal, the minimum rises to $1.065 million for a first-year player.

• More jobs. Practice squads will increase from 10 to 12 players in 2020, and to 14 in 2021. Starting this year, 48 players can be active on gameday; teams will be able to borrow from the practice squad weekly to be part of the 53-man active roster.

• Meh on the cap. Though the salary cap rises from $188.2 million in 2019 to $198.2 million this year, that $198.2 million figure is misleading. Most teams have about 25 minimum salary guys on the team. So with the increase of $100,000 per minimum guy, and the addition of two more $100,000-per-year practice-squadders, that’s about $2.7 million less to spend—or maybe $195.5 million per team. For cap-strapped teams like New Orleans and Pittsburgh and Atlanta, those relative pennies count.

• Softer discipline. Players no longer will get suspended for positive pot tests—and they’ll be tested only in the first two weeks of training camp. The league doesn’t want to catch players anymore. (But a DUI gets an automatic three-game ban.) And commissioner Roger Goodell will be replaced in most disciplinary cases by a neutral arbitrator.

• TV help. It’s expected the players’ piece of the revenue pie will rise from 47 percent to at least 48.5 percent in 2021 upon completion of the new TV deals. Dissatisfied players want a 50-50 split with owners, which may come one day, but could well depend on the more militant players being willing to withhold services. That’s exceedingly rare in NFL annals. By the end of this CBA, it will have been 43 years since NFL struck or were locked out in a contract hassle. That’s because the vast majority haven’t had the stomachs to strike.

• Old-timer aid. About 11,000 former players from bygone eras will have their pensions increased by about 53 percent (from $30,000 annually to $46,000), while 700 or so players who played just three seasons will get pensions for the first time, and about 4,500 will get $50,000 health-savings-reimbursement accounts. One source told me this was worth $300 million in the first year of the deal.

We’ll never know if the perceived threats about players turning down this deal would have materialized. The threats went this way: Players won’t get as good a deal in 2021 if they turn down this one. Ownership sources swore that was true, and the deal the players took in July 2011 wasn’t quite as good as the one they turned down in 2010. We’ll also never know if late votes by players in the two or three days before the Saturday night deadline took into account the tanking economy right now.

The biggest takeaway, from me, will be how the 959 men who voted no—that’s a huge number—look at their union now. And how they look at their union boss, Smith. For a union that took a very deep breath Sunday night after passage of the CBA, there still could be storm clouds coming from unhappy players.

More NFL News

Free Agency: ‘Optics Are Awful’

One owner and two general mangers I spoke with Sunday were somewhere between frustrated and furious that Wednesday’s 4 p.m. start of the free-agency period hadn’t been delayed. The owner called it “tone deaf” to be proceeding with business as usual with the coronavirus hanging over the world.

“Tone deaf is right!” one of the GMs told me by phone, breathing fire. “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. Can you imagine the reaction to some player signing a $60-million contract this week and that being in the headlines while thousands and thousands of people are losing their jobs because of this virus! It’s ridiculous.”

To change the starting date of the league year, Goodell and Smith must agree, because it’s a collectively bargained issue. I’m told Smith “wouldn’t budge” (a source’s words, not mine, and backed by ESPN’s Adam Schefter), because he wanted the signing period to begin—and because there wouldn’t necessarily be a better time if the league pushed it back two weeks or two months.

“It’s arrogant,” the other GM said. “It looks gross. We need to chill out for a while. The optics of it are going to be awful.”

Sad Vegas

Not that anyone really thought, after the past few days, that Las Vegas would have a chance to host the draft in its natural form April 23-25. But when the Centers for Disease Control said Sunday there should be no public gatherings of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks, that pretty much sealed it. Eight weeks is 56 days. April 23 is 38 days away. Last year, an estimated 600,000 gathered in and around Nashville for the draft, and, well, Vegas would have at the very least matched that.

It’s too early to predict whether the draft happens on time, and no one inside the league really knows what form it might take. Certainly if the worst of the virus is gone by late April (unlikely), the NFL could move the draft back a month and hold it in late May. But it could also be studio sport this year if need be. It’s too early to make any sort of prediction about it.

The Market for Tom Brady

It had become fashionable in the past couple of weeks to link Brady with the Titans and former teammate Mike Vrabel, and with San Francisco, the team Brady grew up idolizing. Tennessee signed Ryan Tannehill on Sunday, and NBC’s Chris Simms—close to Niners coach Kyle Shanahan—reported Sunday that the Niners are out on Brady . . . and that the Patriots and Bucs are the final two in line for him.

Neither piece of news should be a surprise. Tannehill, 31, is coming off the NFL’s highest-rated passing season since 2013, and is in a very good partnership with offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. It seems the Niners seriously considered Brady to replace Garoppolo, 28, but what real sense did that make—unless Shanahan lost complete confidence in him? Brady turns 43 in August and, through little fault of his own, didn’t play great last year; his supporting cast was one of the worst he’s ever had.

If Brady goes to Tampa Bay—early in the process, I heard Bruce Arians had significant interest, though I believe the Bucs could still ink Teddy Bridgewater—Brady would have two prime wideouts, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.

Adding to the Buc intrigue Sunday night: New England signed safety Devin McCourty and special-teams ace Matthew Slater for an average of about $14 million a year. That’s heavy for a team that entered the weekend about $38 million under the cap. To add Brady and offensive firepower the teams would need to compete would be quite hard to do. Not impossible. The Brady pursuit might not involve as many teams as we thought.

File This Under You Never Know

It might be just pre-draft chatter, but two teams over the weekend told me to watch Houston and DeAndre Hopkins, who has three years and a reasonable $40 million left on his contract, and who’d cause only a $3-million cap hit to the Texans if they traded him. Houston is currently in draft hell, without a top-50 pick in 2020 and 2021, and coach Bill O’Brien has huge needs to fill on his offensive line, in the secondary and overall youth on the front seven; J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus will play this year at 31 and 30.

What could hurt O’Brien if he’s serious about moving Hopkins is he’ll play this year at 28, and he wasn’t as explosive last year as he’d been . . . and the fact that this is one of the best years in history for wideouts in the draft. How tempting Hopkins would be, though, to teams with cap money. The Patriots, at 23, would be a fascinating match (they might need a mid- or late-round pick back with Hopkins), or the Niners at 31, Giants at 36 or Dolphins at 39.

Houston’s need across the roster is big, and it’d take a big pick to pry Hopkins. Over the last three years, Hopkins has 15 more catches, 14 more touchdowns and 12 fewer dropped passes than the great Julio Jones. Pretty tempting to consider.

Another Hopscotch Quarterback Deal

The Cowboys have waited too long to get Dak Prescott’s contract done. The longer they wait, the more it’s going to cost. Latest illustration why: In Ryan Tannehill’s contract with the Titans, reached Sunday, Tannehill—per Mike Florio—will make $91 million in his first three seasons. Only Russell Wilson ($107 million), Aaron Rodgers ($103 million) and Matt Ryan ($94 million) will have made more in the first three years of their deal than Tannehill. And by waiting, the Cowboys, very likely to put the franchise tag on Prescott today, will just pay more and more for a quarterback who, like Tannehill, was in the right place at the right time—though Prescott’s clearly been better over his career.

By getting Tannehill done Sunday, Tennessee signaled that it would likely put the tag on Derrick Henry and let tackle Jack Conklin become a $15-million-a-year (or more) player elsewhere. The whole story is an amazing redemption tale for Tannehill. Exactly one year ago, Tennessee shipped a 2020 fourth-round pick to Miami for Tannehill, and he won the starting job from a slumping Marcus Mariota in October . . . and become a very rich, very secure man in the process.

Quotes of the Week



“My piece of advice would be to take this very, very seriously. We have this very tiny window right now to put our foot on the brakes and slow this down. If we don’t, then the actions will be even more restrictive on all of us. If we really commit to this—I don’t know how long it will take, maybe eight weeks—then we’re going to save ourselves a lot of headaches in the long term.”

—Dr. Celine Gounder, infectious-disease specialist, to me for my podcast this week, when I asked what advice she would have for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.


“I think that’s something we knew, that it would be close. But just as with anything, the majority rules.”

—New NFLPA president J.C. Tretter, center for the Cleveland Browns, to ESPN, of the 1,019-959 vote of NFL players to approve the collective bargaining agreement with owners.


“Here’s the problem for the players who hate the 17th game so much. It’s not De Smith’s fault. The players have to face the fact that a majority of them will not strike to get what they want. So De doesn’t have the ultimate hammer.”

—A prominent agent to me, on the undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the new CBA.


“There’s no question that Colin [Kaepernick] is a part of sparking a new wave of athletes using our voice and I definitely got courage from him. When he said, ‘Change starts with us,’ it gave me courage to raise my voice.”

—Maya Moore, WNBA star on hiatus from pro basketball, on her work to help free a wrongly imprisoned man, Jonathan Irons, in an inspiring story from L.Z. Granderson of the Los Angeles Times.


“It was Tom Brady’s number one choice, to go to San Francisco and be the starting quarterback.”

—Chris Simms, NBC NFL analyst and former Patriots assistant and very good friend of Niners coach Kyle Shanahan, reporting Sunday that San Francisco decided to stick with Jimmy Garoppolo as its starting quarterback.


“Writing a column as I turn 100 years old is hard to believe. Writing it as the sports world has completely shut down around the world is even harder to believe. There have been a lot of twists and turns in my career, but this has to be one of the unique moments in all of my years of covering sports.”

—The first words of Sid Hartman’s column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Sunday, Hartman’s 100th birthday.

As is his custom, Hartman wrote his regular three columns last week for the paper, as he hit the century mark.

Numbers Game

Above, I wrote about the possibility of the Houston Texans moving wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins before the draft. If a team trades for Hopkins, what is that team getting, exactly?

Hopkins had an all-time-great season for a wide receiver in 2018, with 115 catches and zero drops—believed to be the highest catch total with no drops in NFL history. Though he had six drops and 104 catches in 2019, Pro Football Focus still rated his season the third-best among NFL receivers. But his productivity wasn’t as explosive in 2019. Comparing his average game in 2017/2018 to his average game in 2019:

Losing 2.8 yards per catch in 2019 versus his previous two seasons is significant. 




The timing of the crash of the stock market was not such a big disaster for Minnesota linebacker Anthony Barr.

Barr, on Friday, received a $6 million check from the Vikings as part of his five-year, $67.5-million contract. Let’s say, after taxes and whatever fees he pays on the contract, that, conservatively, he has $3 million to invest. And let’s say he bought Apple stock with it—all Apple stock.

If Barr had gotten the bonus check one month earlier, on Feb. 13, when Apple was trading at $327.85 per share, he’d have been able to purchase 9,150 shares of Apple stock.

With Barr getting the bonus on March 13, when Apple was trading at $248.23 at the start of the day, he’d have been able to purchase 12,085 shares of Apple stock.


Sid Hartman, who celebrated his 100th birthday Sunday by writing his normal column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, wrote his first sports column nine days after the end of World War II in 1945.

King of the Road


It was a simple dinner in lower Manhattan last Thursday night, planned weeks ago, my wife and I with Jenny Vrentas, our friend from The MMQB days. That day, we almost cancelled. A flurry of phone calls and texts—should we do it . . . or should we stay home, hunker down—and it teetered back and forth till we decided, mid-afternoon, to go and just be careful on the subway and in the fairly expansive restaurant.

My wife and I took the 3 train from near our apartment in Brooklyn around 5:55 p.m. The subways are much less crowded these days, so we got adjoining seats away from anyone else, on the way into Manhattan. The car started filling up around Wall Street, workers heading home, and I noticed standing right next to us was ace reporter Andrew Siff of WNBC News in New York. That’s our evening newscast, Channel 4 in New York. At the 14th Street stop, we got up to get out and I extended my hand—reflexively, but boneheadedly—and Siff took it, and I told him what a great job I thought he did as we shook. We had a five-block walk to the restaurant, and I didn’t touch a thing with that right hand till I could get to the men’s room in the restaurant, to wash my hands obsessively. (Sorry Andrew. That’s a mistake I regret.)

We saw Jenny, and we each gave her whatever that elbow greeting is called. We had a fine meal with great conversation. Maybe it was good and relaxing because there were no diners on top of us, as normally happens in a popular restaurant in New York; there were quite a few empty tables. And that was that. Another subway ride home without touching anything, hardly anyone in the car, and we were home.

Felt a bit like the last supper. If it was the last time out in Manhattan for two or three months, or longer, so be it, and happy to do whatever it takes to be sedentary for a while and follow the new rules.

What’s amazing, really, is the difference three days makes. I wouldn’t have made that same trip Sunday night, for instance. The world, at least New York and at least to me, has gotten so much more dangerous in three days.

I’m fortunate to have a job that allows me to stay inside and shut in the vast majority of the time. I’ve found the relatively quiet sidestreets to walk Chuck the dog, and when I do so early in the morning or later in the evening, no one’s around. If that’s the near future, boredom and all, I’m all in.


TNT/CBS broadcaster Kevin Harlan’s evening last Wednesday, flying from his home in Kansas City to do the Celtics-Bucks game on TNT Thursday night (all times Central):

6:15 p.m.: Depart Kansas City International Airport on United Flight 4106 for Chicago and a change of planes for Milwaukee.

7:57 p.m.: Land at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. Walk to gate in F concourse for connecting flight to Milwaukee, which departs at 9:05 p.m.

8:33 p.m.: Harlan has his United boarding pass on his phone screen as he waits to board the flight to Milwaukee. His phone pings. “Woj put out an alert,” he says, referring to basketball reporter Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. “The NBA’s going to suspend the season.” Harlan semi-gasped and got out of line. He didn’t have to check the veracity. Woj is gospel. Harlan looked around for a flight board. Could he find a plane to Kansas City. He found a United flight board, and sure enough, there was a 9:23 p.m. flight for Kansas City out of Terminal B. Commence the jog to Terminal B. It’s about 8:40.

8:55 p.m., approximately: Harlan finds a United Club in Terminal B and goes in to ask if they can change his ticket so he can be re-routed to Kansas City. Nope, he’s told; too close to flight time. Harlan jogs to gate.

Shortly after 9, approximately: Harlan gets to the gate for the Kansas City flight. Flight’s boarded. Gate agents listen to Harlan’s case and find him a seat. Harlan boards the plane. “It’s a ghost flight,” he says. “Twenty people on the plane, maybe. Plane seats over 100.”

9:23 p.m.: Harlan’s flight leaves for Kansas City.

10:57 p.m.: Harlan lands in Kansas City.

Harlan would have checked into the stately Pfister Hotel. The next morning, he and his crew would have had a production meeting at 10 a.m. and headed to the area around 4 p.m. for the 7 p.m. tip. But not this day. Nor would he have the NCAA Tournament to begin prepping for. He has done the NCAA Tournament for 25 years.

“It’s a very empty feeling,” he said Saturday. “I’m sure people know we are fans, just like they are. Like the coaches and ADs and players and families, we’re just as disappointed as they are. This time of year is NCAA Tournament time. It’s become a part of all of us. But the greater story, certainly, we all understand. It’s a very serious time in our country.”

Tweets of the Week



Robinson, a receiver for the Bears, responding to the news of the passage of the CBA.


Brady, also responding to the news of the passage of the CBA, and to NFLPA executive director De Smith.


Rosenthal covers MLB for Fox Sports and The Athletic.


McClain, veteran NFL reporter, at the big Houston airport Thursday morning.


Egger is a sports-talk-show host in Cincinnati, and writes for The Athletic.


Wahl is the SI soccer writer and husband of Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious-disease doctor and NYU professor.

10 Things I Think I Think

1. I think here are a few things I’m hearing prior to the kickoff of the free-agency legal tampering period:

a. Seattle will wait for the price to go down on Jadeveon Clowney, and if it does, the Seahawks very much want him. But I’d be surprised if they paid him premier pass-rush money. Another team with some cash (Giants? Jets?) might.

b. Pittsburgh defensive tackle Javon Hargrave is going to get paid. Lots of talk about him.

c. The Colts, flush with over $80 million in cap money, won’t let it burn a hole in its pocket. If Philip Rivers wants market value—or what his former market value was with the Chargers—I don’t see him getting it in Indy.

d. Lots of teams wake up confused about how they’ll give players physicals this week. The way the system works is on tampering day (today, mostly), a slew of contracts will be announced “pending physical exams.” But with most teams facilities closed or open only to skeleton crews, it creates a strange environment for finalizing contracts and getting physicals done, particularly if hospitals are busy with other priorities.

e. I can’t imagine agents being enthusiastic about flying their veteran players into Seattle to get physicals, if that’s how the system works this week, with the coronavirus scare in the state of Washington.

f. Perfect example of an injured college prospect who’ll have a hard time proving himself without visiting teams: Cal safety Ashton Davis. With the Cal Pro Day cancelled, Davis, coming off core surgery, doesn’t get a chance to run or work out for teams. He could have been a second-round pick with a clean bill of health and the multiple Pro Day contacts/dinners he’d have had with scouts, coaches and GMs. Now that’s out the window.

g. Poor Josh Rosen. Doesn’t know where he’ll be in 2020. He’s Miami’s property, but the 10th pick of the 2018 draft could end up with his third team in 24 months.

h. Not saying it’s true, but no one believes Washington’s take a quarterback with the second pick . . . whenever the draft is.

i. Tampa’s not letting Shaq Barrett go.

2. I think this is a factoid that no modern NFL fan will want to hear, but it is true:

• Roger Goodell took over as commissioner on Sept. 1, 2006, and it’s uncertain how long he will reign. But he has now set up the league for 25 straight seasons of labor peace, with the new labor deal set to last through 2030.

• Pete Rozelle, in his last eight years as commissioner, oversaw two work stoppages, in 1982 and 1987. The second saw three regular-season weeks of replacement players while the real players walked a picket line.

• Regular-season games lost under Goodell: zero. Regular-season games lost under Rozelle: 112, plus the 42 replacement games if you count those.

3. I think, in the sense of fairness for a commissioner who’s been bashed about the head for years, it’s fair to say Goodell has kept the games going in very litigious times.

4. I think this is excellent draft management by the Ravens and GM Eric DeCosta, acquiring two players who should be vital to their 2020 defense for really not very much:

• Traded a fourth-round 2019 draft choice (linebacker Kenny Young, the 122nd overall pick), and a fifth-round 2020 draft choice, the 173rd overall, for an above-average starting cornerback, Marcus Peters. Signed Peters to a contract through the 2022 season.

• Traded a fifth-round 2020 pick (170th overall, obtained from Minnesota for kicker Kaare Vedvik) to Jacksonville for defensive lineman Calais Campbell—PFF’s top-rated 3-4 defensive end in football in 2019.

Think of it: The Ravens, five months apart, got Peters and Campbell for the 122nd pick in 2019 and the 173rd pick in 2020—and a kicker they could not keep.

5. I think the economy, the coronavirus and the losing are coming at a very bad time for the Giants. This is the 11th season of MetLife Stadium, and it’s time for those suite-holders who had 10-year contracts on their suites to renew, and it’s time for those who had five-year deals to renew too. You wouldn’t have expected renewals to go well in this environment, and they’re not.

6. I think the defensive back sure to get paid big is Dallas cornerback Byron Jones. Though I’m a little skeptical on the $17-million-a-year rumors, I do believe he could get overpaid by a team like the Eagles or Giants.

7. I think the lesser corners (Logan Ryan, Chris Harris Jr.) could be the best bargain players in this crop. Valuable and smart and versatile, Ryan and Harris are the better value picks than Jones.

8. I think the David Johnson contract (with $10.2 million due in 2020) is just another example of the new-school bromide, Don’t pay running backs. Same with Melvin Gordon, who turned down an average of $10 million a year from the Chargers last year. Where’s that money coming from now?

9. I think the most predictable headline in my 36 years covering the National Football League came across my desk a few days ago, concerning a certain recently retired famous tight end: “Gronkowski close to deal with WWE.”

10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:

a. Coronavirus Cautionary Tale of the Week: Mattia Ferraresi of the Italian newspaper Il Foglio, writing in the Boston Globe about life in Italy, and about how it’s not too late for us to avoid mass casualties.

b. On Saturday, 368 people in Italy died from the coronavirus.

c. Smart words from Ferraresi, about the moment of time we’re in:

“It’s also a moment in which our usual individualistic, self-centered outlook is waning a bit. In the end, each of us is giving up our individual freedom in order to protect everybody, especially the sick and the elderly. When everybody’s health is at stake, true freedom is to follow instructions.”

d. Most important sentence of the week: When everybody’s health is at stake, true freedom is to follow instructions.

e. Second-most important sentiment of the week: Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal, on those who would say we’re being too paranoid these days:

“Sometimes paranoia is just good sense. Is all this an overreaction? If it is, we’ll recover. If we’re too cautious we’ll realize after a while and we’ll all get angry at the economic cost of it and have big arguments and fights. But we’ll be here to argue and fight.”

f. Right. Better than the alternative.

g. Coronavirus Story of the Week: by Jennifer Levitz of the Wall Street Journal. The story of a Rhode Island assistant principal who just returned from chaperoning a school trip to Italy, is harrowing, and particularly noteworthy for the Coronavirus-dangers-are-overrated crowd.

h. Great lead from Levitz:

Marc Thibault was groggy and surrounded by beeping machines, but he was alert enough to know what it meant when he looked up and saw a priest, wearing protective gear, by his bedside at the Miriam Hospital in Rhode Island.

“Holy cow,” he thought to himself. “I’m 48 years old and I’m getting my last rites.”

Mr. Thibault, one of the first Americans diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, recounted days of pain and fear in his first interview Tuesday, speaking from the intensive-care unit at the Providence hospital where he has been for 13 days, fighting the illness that attacked his lungs. “I was one inch from death,” he said, his voice weary. “No doubt about it. No doubt about it.”

i. That’s the way to write an important you-are-there story.

j. Podcast of the Week: “Confronting a Pandemic,” by The Daily, the New York Times’ podcast series, hosted by Michael Barbera.

k. “The Crown” is genius television. We’re 12 episodes in. Thanks, Netflix. And thanks, Claire Foy. She is brilliant as the Queen. Queen Elizabeth must have watched this, right?

l. You know the best live sports event on TV in New York on Sunday? A professional soccer game. From Turkey.

m. Baseball Story of the Week: Tyler Kepner of the New York Times with a gem on White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson.

n. Kepner wrote that Anderson, who is black, and who is the reigning American League batting champ, wants to be the best player in baseball. And he wants to be a beacon for a future generation of young African-American players. From Kepner:

“Today, Anderson said, the racial makeup of the team means nothing to him because he gets along with everyone. (“I’d be around purple people and I’d fit in,” he said.) But he has shown a curiosity about the history of African-Americans in baseball and society, touring the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum on a trip to Kansas City in 2018 and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta last summer. Last year, Anderson hosted a viewing of the film “42,” about Jackie Robinson, for members of the White Sox’ ACE program, a youth baseball initiative in Chicago that has produced 28 drafted players and more than 200 college scholarship recipients. His personal foundation, Anderson’s League of Leaders, helps children affected by violence in Chicago and Tuscaloosa.”

o. Amazing that Anderson raised his average from .240 in 2018 to .335 last year.

p. I just hope we get to see Tim Anderson play, either soon or at some point in 2020.

q. I am going to miss the box scores, and the nightly rhythm of baseball. It’s been a touchstone of every year of my life.

r. The UFC, from a total outsider’s point of view (mine), seems nuts.

s. Beernerdness: I guess I’m a little old and stale about beer, but having an ice-cold Peroni the other night before dinner . . . exquisite.

t. I filled out our 2020 Census form the other day. Took 4 minutes, 43 seconds.

u. Amazing to me that the government has to beg and plead for citizens to fill out the census. I wait for coffee longer than it takes to fill out the census. I queue for the subway longer than it takes to fill out the census. These days, I spend more time washing my hands in one day than it takes to fill out the census.

The Adieu Haiku


Can we please appoint
Anthony Fauci life czar?
Hero of the Week.

4 responses to “FMIA: NFL In Unprecedented Times, With Impact of Coronavirus Colliding With Free Agency, Draft, Labor Peace

  1. Postponing and cancelling events and seasons will help limit the spread of the coronavirus. I get it. What I don’t understand is how in 8 weeks we will somehow be in the clear. All we did is slow it down. We probably will have a major recession, especially if businesses close and people can’t work. So, what magic event allows people back in the stands by August for the preseason? I’m not finding the answer to that question.

  2. As a fan of the NFL, and of sports in general, I’m very glad to see free agency beginning as normal. I don’t see it as arrogant or having bad optics. It’ll be nice to see and read some regular, non-doom & gloom news for a change.

  3. As a life long resident living in the Buffalo area, thanks for mentioning the Buffalo fire men.

  4. With continuing free agency, NFL might be looked at being tone deaf given crisis. Yet, it is good to have something to take our minds off the pandemic.

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