NFL Insiders Are Skeptical of 2020 Schedule as League Hits Brakes over Virus

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterMarch 27, 2020

The Seahawks' training facility in Renton, Washington, was among the 32 such places the NFL ordered closed until early April.
The Seahawks' training facility in Renton, Washington, was among the 32 such places the NFL ordered closed until early April.Associated Press

It was time to speak with the team doctor. The AFC head coach had absorbed plenty of information about the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the country, but now he needed to hear from someone who understood medical landscape of where this crisis was headed. So he picked up the phone, called, and soon got the blunt talk he was seeking.

The team doctor had already spoken to members of the organization, but in more general terms. This conversation was more raw. "How many people could die?" the coach asked. "It could be hundreds of thousands, and potentially more would be hospitalized," the doctor told him. That is also the view of many experts.

Then the coach asked the same question many in football are: "How will this impact the season?"

It was too early to say, but the physician stressed the pandemic could go beyond hampering the offseason. It could also alter when regular-season games are played.

"I don't see how there aren't massive delays up and down the [NFL] calendar," the coach told B/R in a text, "including delay to start of season."

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Again, it's early, and no one has a time machine. But an increasing pessimism is spreading among some coaches that the start of the season will not begin as scheduled. 

"It's really hard to know about long-term impacts," Ravens president Dick Cass told the team's website. "A lot of that is going to depend on how long the stay-at-home order remains in effect. If it lasts a long time, it could have obviously an effect on our season. No one expects that, but you just don't know. …

"I just don't think the OTAs are going to happen at all. I hope I'm wrong. I'm hoping we can get some players in (the facility) in June, but I'm sort of doubtful of that."

Already, the virus has had an effect.

The NFL recently closed all team facilities until April 8, when the league says it will reassess the situation and decide if it's safe to reopen them.

The annual owners meeting, originally scheduled for later this week, has been canceled.

Offseason workout programs that were scheduled to begin April 6 have been postponed.

And while the draft is slated to go on as planned beginning April 23, it will do so minus any fans in attendance.

As of now, rookie minicamps will start on May 1, and training camps in mid-July, but there's a belief among coaches and team executives that if the crisis continues for even a short time longer, there could be disruption to not just the OTAs schedule but training camps as well.

Though the NFL is planning to hold the draft during its scheduled late April dates, the league ordered all teams to close their facilities until early next month.
Though the NFL is planning to hold the draft during its scheduled late April dates, the league ordered all teams to close their facilities until early next month.Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

One NFC head coach said he thinks it's possible the league has a 14-game season next year.

If this virus continues for several more months, the NFL might follow the playbook it used after the 2011 lockout. That work stoppage lasted from March 12 to July 25, delaying free agency and taking with it much of training camp. Players were restricted from seeing team doctors and were locked out of team facilities. Sound familiar?

The only game that was canceled that year was the Hall of Fame Game in early August. Thus, goes the thinking of some in the league, if NFL teams are up and operating by June or July, that would leave all of August (at the latest) for training camp to start.

Still, some coaches and front office executives see a more problematic immediate future than the league office does. Indeed, as first reported by ESPN, a subcommittee of general managers voted Tuesday to recommend that Commissioner Roger Goodell postpone the draft from its scheduled April 23-25 dates.

"I'd be personally in favor of delaying the draft so that we could get some of the work done that our scouts and personnel people ordinarily do," Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said on NBC Sports' The Peter King Podcast. "And then just the logistics of trying to conduct the draft with not having access to your draft rooms and your offices creates a lot of logistic problems.

"This is not a fantasy draft that you conduct out there with just a list of things on a piece of paper. There's a lot of things that go into it to prepare, and there's a lot of work that is done during the draft."

Despite the objections, the NFL's Management Council Executive Committee unanimously agreed that the draft should proceed as scheduled.

While the possibility that the pandemic worsens could force the league to recalculate its responses, some coaches around the league say privately that even if things move along at the pace they have so far, the league is facing a challenge so as not to allow for some franchises to gain massive competitive advantages.

In places like New York, New Jersey and California, teams had already been restricted before the league's order this week closing facilities.

Stay-at-home orders had been issued in all three places by each state's governor. That makes it pretty tough to get any offseason business done if you're a member of the Bills, Giants, Jets, Rams, 49ers or Chargers. And if you play or work for the Saints or Seahawks, the growing crisis in those two areas likely has had a similar effect. 

Not every state, however, has a large number of cases (yet) or stay-at-home orders. In those states, theoretically, players could have get together on their own and practice.

One way for the league to guarantee no team gets such an advantage is to make sure that all teams practice when all the new cases of the virus are low, or non-existent, everywhere in the country.

The problem is that moment may be months away, and experts say it may not even be static as the virus expands in multiple waves.

So that leaves the NFL and its teams trying to adjust to an uncertain world, just like, well, the rest of the us. Every team may be looking for ways to get back to normal as much as possible, but those ways aren't visible yet.

Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee explained to SiriusXM NFL Radio that the mystery surrounding the immediate future of the league has some teams trying to get creative:

"I still think they're trying to figure out the logistics of trying to learn and have meetings. Hopefully, we can get past this and have some type of offseason. But if not, I think there's a game plan to maybe use some technology, to use the iPads, maybe to Skype to have some of those meetings because there's no question—offensively and defensively—trying to learn new systems, kinda systems that are probably different than what we've had in the past, we're going to need to have those meetings and have that time."

How much time does he and the league have? Your guess is as good as theirs.

           

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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