How NFL Players Are Handling an Unusual Offseason Amid Coronavirus

Kyle Allen is social distancing with Josh Allen and Sam Darnold. Richard Sherman and Mitch Schwartz give their veteran perspectives on the shutdown. Plus, a mini-mock draft and what this time is like for draft prospects.
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Amid America’s coronavirus crisis, NFL players aren’t exactly the most afflicted, but as is the case for basically all of us, life has become considerably more complicated for them. Allen, who was traded from Carolina to Washington, is just another example, holed up in what amounts to a QB quarantine in Orange County (yes, there are worse places to be stuck), with a lease set to expire in a few days.

“I might have to crash at Sam’s,” Allen said Wednesday morning.

Sam is Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, and the two of them, plus Bills quarterback Josh Allen, make up this particular cluster who happened to be together when everything changed two weeks ago. They’ve been there since the Super Bowl, in what’s basically a developmental retreat with their throwing coach Jordan Palmer, an hour South of Los Angeles.

And until two weeks ago, that was going as you might expect. Each quarterback got his work in, and they got their downtime too, as part of a process most NFL players go through this time of year in slowly ramping up to their teams’ offseason programs in April.

Now? Now, it seems certain those offseason programs will be at least abbreviated, if not called off all together. In fact, even starting training camp on time in late July/early August isn’t a sure thing, and everything between now and then is in question.

Everyone’s adjusting as such, because, really, no one has a choice. Allen certainly has had to, more so than most others. But his story, given the circumstances, isn’t that unusual.

It’s been two weeks, and it’s already clear that, for coaches, scouts and players alike, this is going to be a very different offseason.

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The NFL has slowed to a crawl, but we’ve still got a fresh GamePlan for you, here from my own quarantine with my wife, three kids and Australian Shepard in the Boston suburbs. This morning, we’ll give you…

 A look at how players are making up for missing Pro Days.

 An identification of the prospects affected most by it.

 A mini-mock draft!

But we’re starting with how players across the NFL are getting used to a new, (hopefully) temporary normal.

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nfl-offseason-coronavirus-allen-schwartz-sherman

Three Mondays ago, on March 9, Allen pulled up stakes in Cali for a quick, scheduled trip to Charlotte. There, his plan was to finalize his ERFA (exclusive-rights free agent) tender with the Panthers for 2020, and he left time to nail down a new apartment not far from Bank of America Stadium, with plans to return there less than a month later.

Tuesday morning, he signed his contract. Tuesday afternoon, he signed his lease. Tuesday night, he was on a plane headed back to Los Angeles. And Wednesday night, less 24 hours after he got back from North Carolina, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert was diagnosed with COVID-19 in Oklahoma City and the sports world turned on a dime.

The immediate future of every pro and college athlete in America was put on hold within 48 hours, and that included the three young QBs doing their work in Orange County.

“I was still kind of tripping about that this week,” Allen said. “Then I went to work out on Monday—me, Sam and Josh in our friend’s garage—and I got a call from our GM (Marty Hurney) saying, ‘Thanks for everything you’ve done. We’re trading you to [Washington].’”

Allen’s issues are, of course, different from some others. He just turned 24 and is living the kind of nomadic life (we’ll get back to that in a minute) a lot of guys his age do as they’re starting careers.

Richard Sherman’s on the other end of the NFL spectrum, now approaching his 10th season and turning 32 at the end of the month. He and his wife Ashley live in Seattle, and have a 5-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter, and the kids’ pre-K program is now right there in the family living room.

And really, as he sees it, that’s been the biggest difference. This time of year, he calls himself a “Peloton guy” anyway—getting his conditioning work in on the stationary bike and the basketball court. The training facility he goes to near his house is still open, and everyone there is wearing gloves and cleaning machines after they’re used. And we’re getting close to the point in the offseason where he’d normally start running ladders and stadium steps.

Other than that? Because he’s in the house more, he may be playing video games more than he’s used to, and paying a little more attention to the news. But that’s really it.

“With my routine, I don’t really ramp until we get closer to the season anyway,” Sherman said. “I wouldn’t need an offseason program, I think most veterans would tell you that. The lockout year, that was my rookie year, we went straight into the season, and it wasn’t really a concern for us. For a lot of us, that stuff’s a waste of time. It’s good for the young guys, but not as much for a guy who’s 10 years into playing in a scheme.”

And Sherman agreed with a point that Chiefs tackle Mitch Schwartz raised to me—that this unusual situation means the two Super Bowl teams won’t face a disadvantage that often comes with a deeper playoff run. Normally, San Francisco and Kansas City would be up against a truncated offseason, with only about two months separating the last game and the reporting date for teams’ strength-and-conditioning programs.

As it stands now, it looks like the Super Bowl teams will almost certainly get that time back without losing anything on other teams also forced to keep their facilities shut down.

“I think it’s a good thing,” Schwartz said, though obviously the word good in these circumstances is all relative. “Pushing the start later means some guys will come back more ready to get right back into the swing of things, because we get to take a little more time to get our bodies right. … For me, personally, being an older guy, to get that little extra rest helps. When you start OTAs, we were going to have lost five weeks of that, and this will probably build it back in.”

Schwartz, who turns 31 in June, is going into his ninth year. He and his wife were supposed to be in Paris right now, part of a trip that was set to take them through France and to London, before wrapping up with a buddy’s wedding in Ireland.

Instead, he’s home and—even if the rules aren’t as strict in Missouri and Kansas as they are in his native California—doing his best to be as careful as possible. Schwartz said he’s left his house once (to pick up mail at the Chiefs facility) over the last 10 days. And he’s passing the time by getting back into puzzles with his wife, and cooking, something he’s gotten pretty passionate about.

He started a food blog last year and has been posting his creations on Instagram and within his Instagram Stories the last few days.

“A lot of my days are revolving around what we’re going to eat,” Schwartz said. “I’m planning that out two, three, four days in advance.”

Like Sherman, he’s doing what he can to stay in shape. Schwartz says he doesn’t have the problem some linemen do in either keeping weight off or keeping weight on, and can stay in the 320-325 pound range easily. His biggest issue, for now, would be losing strength. Normally, this time of year, he’d be going into the Chiefs facility four days a week to lift, and he can’t do that now.

But both of these older guys, and most other NFL players, have gotten road maps from their teams. The Chiefs’ strength coaches sent their guys two separate plans: one a dumbbell-based program for guys who do have a weight-room setup at home, and one a body-weight centered workout for those who don’t. The 49ers took similar measures, and even sent their guys ways to buy discounted weight-room equipment, if they want to buy stuff.

And, of course, these guys have the same questions we all do. Sherman thinks back to October and November, when a sickness everyone was calling the “flu” ripped through NFL locker rooms—one that got his wife really sick—and wonders if maybe COVID-19 hit pro football early. Schwartz and his wife have friends in their 60s in their neighborhood that they’d hang out with all the time before this, and can’t hang out with for the time being.

It’s a weird time for everyone.

***

On Monday, when Hurney called Kyle Allen, a lot of things ran through his head. He was excited to be reunited with new Washington head coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner. He realized he’d have to break the lease he’d signed 13 days earlier in Charlotte. It also hit him that he couldn’t find a place to live in Virginia—because he doesn’t have much clue when he’ll actually be able to go there.

The plan, before all this, had been to go to Charlotte next week when the lease on the Orange County house he’s renting with Josh Allen expires. That, obviously, is out the window now. He thought about going home to Arizona instead, but that doesn’t work either. Someone at his mom’s work got COVID-19, so she’s in a 14-day quarantine now, and going there would mean entering a new quarantine.

For now, he’ll stay in the seven-person quarantine he’s in. He, Josh Allen and their girlfriends are in the one house; Darnold’s in a house he just bought 15 minutes away; and Darnold’s USC teammate Matt Lopes (who’s now working in the Trojans’ football program) is working with the group too, as is Palmer.

As it is, the quarterbacks wake up every day and, because all the parks and fields around them are shut down, go throw on the beach by Darnold’s house—something Allen sees benefit in, in that it forces you to throw from your core. After that, they go lift, which is also a little complicated. The gym they’d worked out of is closed, so their trainer found a friend with a weight setup in what Allen says is a “40-square-foot garage” that they can use.

After that, they’ll go back to the house, eat lunch, play cards, watch TV, play some more cards and eventually watch movies at night. The biggest problems, really, are losing the chance to work with the rehab guy they’d been using, and fighting boredom.

“This is really how we lived anyway,” Allen said. “It’s just 24/7 now. It’s an interesting time. You talk to some people, and they’ll say the football part of it is similar to the lockout year, we might have nothing until camp. And maybe we’ll look around the league in August, and there’ll be some teams that took advantage of the time, and some teams that didn’t. That’s the most interesting part.

“What happens to OTAs? Training camp, maybe that’ll only be four weeks.”

But all of that’s still a long way off. Of more immediate concern is where all these guys will be next week. Josh Allen’s looked into the idea of going back to where he grew up, near Fresno, or even to Buffalo. Kyle Allen’s looking into Airbnb’s close by.

And if all else fails, there’s always Darnold’s couch.

***

LSU Joe Burrow vs Oklahoma College Football Playoff

POWER RANKINGS

A month to go until the draft, which the NFL is insistent will go on as schedule. Does that make it time to use the power rankings for a mock draft? Yes, it does.

1) Bengals: QB Joe Burrow, LSU. From mining Burrow’s old roommate Sam Hubbard for info to sending strong signals (through the signings of D.J. Reader, Trae Waynes, and another ex-Burrow teammates, Vonn Bell) on how serious they are about winning, everything here is pointing to Cincinnati taking Burrow with the first overall pick.

2) Washington: DE Chase Young, Ohio State. They’ll kick the tires on Tua Tagovailoa to, as one staffer put it to me, “make sure we’re not passing on Michael Jordan.” They’ll test the trade waters. Then they’ll take the local prodigy, as they’ve planned to all along.

3) Chargers (trade): QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama. The Lions are open for business at 3, and should have suitors if Tagovailoa can convince enough NFL people his hip won’t be a problem. Two keys here. One, trading with L.A. would keep Detroit in range to get one the four elite defenders in the class. Two, Tagovailoa stylistically fits what Anthony Lynn likes in a QB (though I’m not sure the Chargers won’t prefer Justin Herbert).

4) Giants: LB Isaiah Simmons, Clemson. GM Dave Gettleman stays true to his ways, stays put at 4, and gets himself a front-seven war daddy. Simmons is also a perfect fit for the Patriot-style defense that Joe Judge’s DC, Patrick Graham, plans to implement in New York—the Swiss army sort of linebacker who can play all over the defense.

5) Dolphins: QB Justin Herbert, Oregon. Herbert’s polarizing, to be sure. But his potential is immense—and there is a feeling in some corners of the NFL that he was ill-fit for the system he ran in Eugene, leaving a lot of room for growth in a scheme that has him playing off play-action and push the ball downfield more.

And by the way, the winners in this scenario? The Lions, who could, in theory, take Jeff Okudah at 6; the Panthers who could take Derrick Brown at 7; and the teams to follow who need tackles, with four really good ones to pick from.

***

THE BIG QUESTION

How are kids who didn’t get pro day making up for it?

Really, the answer here is that it’s up to their agents. And that’s why what Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy did over the weekend piqued my interest: posting a how-to on putting together a pro day for players and their reps. As it turns out, Nagy got a ton of positive feedback on an 11-part video series that covered doing measurements for height, weight, hand and arm, and wing span, and setting up the vertical jump, bench press, short shuttle, 3-cone drill, broad jump, and 40-yard dash. Some have implemented it already.

Agent Buddy Baker and his group, for one, have put the idea into motion.

Notre Dame linebacker Asmar Bilal already went through his workout near where he lives in Indianapolis. One of Baker’s partners used to coach locally at Ben Davis High School, and thanks to that connection they were able to use the field there, otherwise closed, and brought the trainer Bilal has been working with over to run the show.

Obviously, Bilal would’ve been better off now had he gotten a combine invite. Absent that, this at least was a way to get something on tape for NFL teams who, by rule, can’t come see him. Notre Dame’s Pro Day was scheduled for April 1 and, obviously, that’s not happening.

And in Nashville, Baker’s group has deployed ex-Titans college scouting director Blake Beddingfield to help out—which they hope will make a difference, since Beddingfield worked for two decades as an NFL scout, and is a trusted name in the pro football circles. Beddingfield already did a pro day for Memphis CB/KR Chris Claybrooks, and is set to do another for Middle Tennessee S Jovante Moffatt and Kentucky DE Calvin Taylor.

Now, these sorts of things aren’t perfect. Teams have told Baker and his partner Tony Bonagura that aren’t going to use the numbers from the workout. But even if they don’t, the agents hope this will give teams a chance to see all those guys move through the testing and position drills, and get a better feel for who they are as athletes

“You want them to look athletic and fluid, and we can at least show that,” Bonagura said. “And it’s a good way to bring guys’ names up again—it’s a good talking point in discussion with scouts.”

This is just a piece of the puzzle, of course. Teams and players will, for sure, be burning up the FaceTime lines over the next few weeks. But given the circumstances, it’s not hard to see where you’d figure every little bit could help.

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WHAT NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT

We have discussed how these circumstances are going to affect Tagovailoa, and rightfully so—he’s a high-level prospect, and teams will be making multi-million dollar decisions on him and his ability to stay healthy, the kind that can make or break the career of a general manager or a head coach.

But in asking around the next few weeks, I don’t think he’s the guy most affected by how different the next four weeks will be, when compared to the normal draft cycle.

Most people I’ve talked to believe the guy who’ll really be hurt by the spot all 32 teams are in is the guy who’s borderline draftable (i.e. could be a fifth- or sixth-rounder, or could go undrafted) who has an injury history and wasn’t invited to the combine.

Why? Well, teams are going to dig and dig and dig on Tagovailoa. Deciding on a quarterback in the top 10 is, again, an enormous call that merits that level of work. Are they going to do the same level of recon on a guy who might go 225th overall? Probably not.

So if there are injury concerns on, say, that sixth-round linebacker or fifth-round tight end, and a team can’t get a physical for him, it might be more apt to just say, “Let’s pass on that one,” largely because the price for passing on such a player wouldn’t be nearly as heavy as doing the same on someone like Tagovailoa.

And quite honestly, I don’t know what those players can do in this case. There are teams, lots of them, that simply won’t draft a guy they don’t have a reliable physical on. Maybe some adjust their policy on that, given the circumstances. But if they make exceptions, my guess is it won’t be for some dude in the sixth round.

This, by the way, would be one very valid argument for pushing the draft back (not that the league is planning to listen to those).

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THE FINAL WORD

Four weeks until draft day. And stick with us, because the rumor mill’s gonna start firing up soon, and we’ll be right where we always are for you on that stuff.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.