When the money-conscious and hyper-competitive NFL starts taking measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic, you should take that as a bright, flashing sign that this thing is serious.
Even though the NFL is in its offseason — and thus, is not forced to postpone or cancel games like the NCAA, MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS have all been recently forced to do — this remains a busy time of year. Free agency is slated to start next week, while the 2020 NFL draft is only six weeks away.
And while the league office was took a wait-and-see approach to the matter as recently as Tuesday, things ramped up in recent days. On Thursday, the league canceled its annual owners meetings set for late March, where rule changes for the upcoming season would get put in place.
And on Wednesday and Thursday, word leaked of multiple teams — at least 15 in all at the time of publication — altering their personnel movements during the pre-draft circuit as a precautionary measure against the spread of a virus that has shaken the world.
Why losing ‘top-30’ visits hurts teams, draft prospects
Multiple teams have also canceled or postponed their pre-draft “top-30” visits with draft prospects, multiple sources told Yahoo Sports, a step that reflects the seriousness of the situation. These visits are crucial parts of the draft evaluation process, so much so that teams often urge the player and his agent to stay silent about the meetings. Each team gets 30 visits, with each being an opportunity to meet face-to-face with intriguing players they need more information on. Not having them at all, not having as many or even not having them in person would hurt both sides.
Yet, here we are, understandably, with some teams erring on the side of caution.
“It hurts kids who have character questions and injury issues the most,” one league source told Yahoo Sports.
Teams also use these visits to compare prospects to each other, especially if they expect to draft a player at a position of need. Take the Kansas City Chiefs in 2017, for instance, who knew they wanted to draft a quarterback and thus, brought all of the draft’s top quarterbacks to Kansas City and tested their ability to learn plays. The player who stood out, by the way, was the man they ended up trading up to get — Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who went on to lead the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl title in 50 years.
Will NFL alter April’s draft in Las Vegas?
So yes, the cancellation of top-30 visits is a critical step, and likely a sign of more precautionary moves to come. Would the league consider pushing back the free agency process, which is set to start Sunday? You can make a strong case for it.
And what about the NFL draft, the spotlight event on the offseason calendar? It will be a spectacle for sure this year in Las Vegas, one expected to attract thousands of football-crazed attendees and pour millions into that city’s economy. Would the league consider pushing that back or, at the very least, closing it to the public? Perhaps.
Practically anything seems to be on the table, now that the certainty of each team’s pre-draft visits has been threatened.
Of course — and this shouldn’t need to be said, though I’ll say it anyway — the football cost of delaying visits pales in comparison to the human cost of not doing so amid a highly contagious virus that people are still learning about.
So here’s to hoping the NFL and its teams continue to take all the necessary steps to keep people, both in and around the game, safe for as long as possible.
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