The Coronavirus, COVID-19, has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization and is starting to impact daily life all over the globe. Sports leagues around the world are therefore adapting to the fast-spreading virus — from the NBA suspending the 2020 season, to the cancellation of March Madness, to thousands of other events getting cancelled or at least adapted to fit national emergency requirements.
Pro football is no exception, as a flurry of news broke on Thursday about the league adapting to the fast-spreading, highly infectious virus. We will be tracking any major news relating to the NFL and the New England Patriots in this story.
Before doing that, however, a quick reminder on the CDC’s steps to prevent illness:
- Clean your hands often
- Avoid close contact
- Stay home if you’re sick
- Cover coughs and sneezes
- Wear a face mask if you are sick
- Clean and disinfect
For more information, please visit the CDC’s website or contact your local officials. Please stay safe and try to take care of your loved ones, and be respectful to others both in your communities and the one we have here at Pats Pulpit.
According to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, the Patriots have told their coaches and scouts not to fly. The team also encouraged them to work from home “for the time being.”
New England did not implement a travel ban like other teams around the league on Thursday, when the team was still “considering recalling all team personnel from the scouting trail and cancelling pre-draft visits with prospects, among other precautions to protect against the virus,” according to the Boston Herald’s Karen Guregian. Given recent developments a precautionary move seemed only like a matter of when not if.
Meanwhile, members of the team’s scouting department were spotted at the Clemson pro day in South Carolina.
The Patriots have also decided to cancel their cheerleader auditions originally scheduled for Saturday, March 21.
NFL teams’ news
Amid the growing threat of COVID-19, the Houston Texans, Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, Atlanta Falcons, Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins are among the NFL organizations instructing non-essential staff members to work remotely. The Buffalo Bills and Carolina Panthers have also restricted travel for coaches and scouts.
The Eagles are furthermore shutting down their training facility, while the Green Bay Packers will be closing public operations at Lambeau Field and Titletown for two weeks.
On Friday, the Cleveland Browns joined the list of teams to alter their internal operations due to the virus: the team eliminated air travel for scouts and coaches, and also directed the majority of its employees to work from home.
Private workouts and top-30 official visits with prospects are gridlocked as the 2020 draft draws near: on Friday, the NFL sent a memo to all clubs prohibiting them from hosting players on pre-draft visits and also banning all travel to college campuses or otherwise. Teams still can do phone or video calls with players, but those are limited to three per week.
Numerous college pro days, including those of the Michigan Wolverines, Penn State Nittany Lions, Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Alabama Crimson Tide, have also confirmed postponements or cancellations amid ongoing coronavirus developments.
The schedule for the upcoming free agency remains in place as of Sunday night, with the league sending out a memo to all 32 reaffirming them of the upcoming schedule:
- March 16, 11:59 a.m. ET: Franchise/transition tag window closes
- March 16, 12:00 p.m. ET: Legal tampering period opens
- March 18, 4:00 p.m. ET: 2020 league year/free agency begin
Given the growing number of travel restrictions and agents starting to advise against their players visiting with teams, however, it would not be a surprise if the entire situation remained fluid.
NFL offseason schedule
The NFL announced Thursday that it had withdrawn the annual league meeting, which was scheduled for March 29 through April 1 in Palm Beach, Fla., and will push matters regarding bylaws and proposed rule changes forward to the spring meeting. The league released the following statement on the decision:
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell notified the clubs today that after careful consideration and consultation with medical experts, the NFL’s annual meeting scheduled for March 29-April 1 has been canceled.
There will be full consideration and votes on any open football issues, including playing rules, bylaws, and resolutions, as well as other business matters that were on the agenda for the Annual Meeting, at the Spring meeting scheduled for May 19-20. Most of the first day will be dedicated to football-related issues. Head coaches and general managers will participate in the meeting.
This decision was made consistent with the league’s primary concern to protect the health of club and league employees and the public while enabling the league to continue with its essential business operations.
We will continue to closely monitor developments, consult with leading experts, and be prepared to make any changes necessary as circumstances warrant.
The NFL also cancelled the HBCU combine, which was supposed to be held at the Miami Dolphins’ facilities on March 27 through 29.
The NFL is also looking at making possible adjustments to the draft in late April, according to Michael Gehlken of the Dallas News.
As noted above, the league year remains on track to begin at 4 p.m. ET, March 18.