The new NFL year and free agency are set to start on Wednesday, but New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton isn't holding his breath.
Payton said on Saturday that he expects the league to delay the official start of its season this week due to the effects of the coronavirus. As NOLA.com reported, the Saints coach said he believes the NFL is not yet ready to kick off the free agency process, which has traditionally involved a significant amount of travel and in-person meetings between players and teams.
"Most immediately, the start of our league year, which is due to be this Wednesday, free agency begins, that's gonna be, I think, pushed back," Payton said.
Payton also predicted that the NFL Draft, set to take place between April 23 and 25, could see changes as well, though he believes the date may stay the same.
"Certainly the format's going to change, relative to what they're used to," he said. "Like everyone else around the country, not only that, around the world, we're all making the necessary changes and really prioritizing what's most important — everyone's health and wellbeing."
Payton is the latest person within the NFL to suggest that the start of the league year would be pushed back. Earlier in the week, Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk reported that officials were in discussions on how to proceed and an announcement was expected this weekend.
"Per a league source, the NFL currently is contemplating the possibility of announcing on Sunday a delay in the start of free agency," Florio reported. "The league wants to wait until after voting on the CBA closes before making a final decision, in order to prevent further delays to the CBA voting process."Florio added that the NFL was also aware of the optics of starting a multi-million dollar free-agency process while the nation is facing a massive outbreak of the deadly coronavirus. The league had already moved to cancel pro days and in-person visits for draft prospects, which are similar to what would take place during free agency. With the legal tampering period set to begin on Monday, an official announcement is expected to come before then.
Other major American sports leagues have already announced major changes, with the NBA and NHL suspending their seasons and NCAA canceling the men's and women's basketball tournaments. Major League Baseball also announced that it would be pushing back the start of the season indefinitely, and there is no clarity when any of the leagues could resume.