(CBS Local)- With the calendar about to flip to April, the NFL offseason is supposed to begin ramping up in earnest. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, that is clearly not going to be the case.
The league has said that this year’s Draft, scheduled for the weekend of April 23rd-25th, will go on as scheduled, albeit in a more virtual form. Aside from the draft, teams with new head coaches were theoretically allowed to begin offseason workout programs April 6th. Teams that had returning head coaches could have done the same beginning April 20th. Both of those dates are highly unlikely to remain the same considering the league has closed team facilities until further notice.
Now, organized team activities and offseason workout programs being pushed back is not the end of the world by any stretch, as Jonathan Herbst, Certified Contract Adviser and General Counsel for PFS Agency, points out.
“Look, if some OTAs get canceled it’s not the end of the world,” said Herbst.
But the question of how the coronavirus pandemic will affect the league still looms large. With positive cases in the U.S. continuing an exponential increase each day, the idea of the country being back to normal when it comes to May or June seems far-fetched. As Kyle Dolan, Certified Contract Advisor for Priority Sports & Entertainment points out, the more information that we learn about the spread of COVID-19, the less likely a normal summer of NFL activities seems.
“It’s really interesting because the more you learn about the spread of this thing, the more convinced I become that OTAs will be pushed back. That rookie minicamps will be pushed back,” said Dolan. “The nice thing for football is the summer already had a bit of down time built in where it could get pushed back to. I don’t know the specifics of how it will play out but the more you read about this COVID-19 situation it becomes harder to believe that it’s going to be business as usual.”
How would an accelerated schedule like that look? Neither Herbst nor Dolan wanted to speculate on the specifics of what an abbreviated offseason could look like. But, let’s say the dates for the early offseason activities get pushed back a month. So, instead you have something like this.
May 6th- Teams with new head coaches can begin offseason workout programs
May 20th-Teams with returning head coaches can begin offseason workout programs
June 1-4 or June 8-11- Clubs hold their one three day post-Draft rookie minicamp
Late-July- Training camps begin
To Dolan’s point, the original schedule for the league is spread out enough that it does give some cushioning time to be condensed slightly and still work out for everyone involved. Granted, the league would have to work with the NFLPA to make any changes to the schedule, but in the current environment, one would imagine the players’ union would be willing to make some of these changes.
Overall, the hope for the NFL Herbst says, is that being a fall sport will allow for enough time for the country to get the pandemic under control.
“My hope is that because football is a fall sport, we’re not going to be impacted in the same way basketball and baseball have been,” said Herbst. “It looks, as of now, that’s what is going to happen. But, who knows? We’re hoping that it doesn’t cost any games.”
How are the players holding up in the midst of all of this? Both Herbst and Dolan said that their clients have been handling things fairly well. In Herbst’s case, he believes players are realizing how fortunate they are to be in the position they’re in.
“I think to a certain extent, they’re starting to realize how fortunate they are to be professional athletes and have checks coming in. There are a lot of people that are out of work and can’t pay the bills,” said Herbst. “We’ve had those conversations when talking about a signing bonus of a million dollars vs. maybe a million two. When you put it into perspective and when you look at the problems the average American is having right now, it makes you think a little more.”
For Dolan’s clients, who are prospects for the upcoming NFL Draft, he says the focus has been on maintaining the same mental toughness that they prepared for with a normal Draft process.
“I call and text my guys all the time and we have talked about how, heading into this process, we knew it would be mentally draining, we just didn’t know it would be mentally draining in this way,” said Dolan. “It’s new to them, they have never been through a “normal” draft process. So, this is the only one they have ever known.”
For all players, draft prospects and league veterans alike, it’s on the individual more than ever to stay in the necessary shape to be prepared once things do start up again. Doing so may be difficult if access to the team training facilities is unavailable but, it’s clear that players have adapted.