The NFL is ready to start its new year this week, moving ahead with the start of free agency despite reports that it could be pushed back.
The league reportedly sent a memo to teams on Sunday verifying that the start of the new league year would take place on schedule this week, NFL.com writer Tom Pelissero reported on Twitter. The start of the league had been up in the air amid the impact of the coronavirus, which forced all other major American sports leagues to go on hiatus or, in the case of Major League Baseball, push back the start of the season.
Some of the speculation about the NFL pushing back its own league year came from New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, who said in an interview this week that he expected some delays from the league.
“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, via NOLA.
Payton added that he believed the NFL Draft, now scheduled to take place between April 23 and 25, would also see some changes. Payton did not believe that the draft itself would have to be moved back but thought it could undergo a format change.
“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.”
There was other speculation that the league year could be pushed back due to ongoing negotiation regarding the new collective bargaining agreement. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk reported that a league source said the NFL was close to announcing on Sunday that it would delay the start of free agency until after the CBA voting had closed out. That ended up taking place on Sunday, with a new CBA being authorized.
With the NFL season starting on time, it is still not clear how free agency could be affected. This period has traditionally involved a significant amount of travel and in-person visits for free agents, which could all be impacted due to nationwide restrictions from the coronavirus.
With no other sports taking place, there has been greater attention on the upcoming NFL free agency, which will include Tom Brady testing the open market for the first time in his career.