Imagine this; you're Bill Belichick in the midst of the NFL's offseason and are planning to attend pro days, bring prospects in for interviews, or bring free agents in for physicals. Then the outbreak of COVID-19 - also known as "coronavirus"- occurs, which puts a halt to any travel plans you had for yourself, your staff, or any players that planned on coming to you. That's what NFL head coaches are dealing with right now. Well, not all of them are banned from traveling for work as of the writing of this piece. But it's slowly getting to that point.
According to multiple reports, several teams have already suspended coaches and scouts from traveling. A few other teams have shut down their facilities, or encouraged their employees to work from home for the time being.
The Patriots have not yet announced any proactive measures they've taken to prevent the outbreak. But how will it impact them when the inevitable happens and they decide to suspend their coaches and scouts from traveling and/or shut down their facilities? The answer: quite a lot. Here's why:
At this point of the offseason, and more importantly for the upcoming weeks that kick off free agency, there's a lot of travel that is done by coaches, scouts and players in the NFL, and for prospects trying to get into the league. For the Patriots, who have to make some key signings during free agency, and need to nail this year's draft if they want to improve for next season, this is a pivotal time of the offseason for them. But if no one from the organization is allowed to travel, that seriously limits what they are able to do in terms of meet-ups and physicals during free agency and scouting and interviews leading up to the draft.
Tom Brady's pending free agency is a pure example of how impactful the virus could be on free agency. If teams aren't able to sit down in a room with him, lock eyes, and make their pitch to the future Hall of Fame QB, how influenced will Brady be to sign elsewhere as opposed to New England, who is just a car drive away from him (depending on which home is in at that point). How about if a team does convince Brady to sign with them, but the official signing of him is pending a physical, which needs to be done by that team's doctors. What are they to do then if their facilities are shut down?
For prospects trying to make their way into the NFL, some of the most important days of their lives take place between February and April. This week and through the next couple weeks, prospects will be displaying their abilities at pro days, along with doing interviews with NFL teams. But the coronavirus pandemic may limit those prospects chances of being seen or interviewed by coaches and scouts in person.
One prospect told PatriotMaven when asked how he would feel about doing a pro day with fewer scouts and coaches in attendance because of the outbreak "I would be upset. ...This is the most important week of my life!" That same player added that he was notified at least one of his pro days would be closed to the public, but was unsure how many scouts, coaches, or others would be in attendance for any of his workouts.
The NFL has no intentions of moving the start of the new year league from its schedule date, which is next Wednesday, March 18, according to ESPN insider Adam Schefter. The NFL Annual Meeting in Florida scheduled for the end of March has been cancelled, per NFL Media's Tom Pelissero. And the league is discussing possible changes for the NFL Draft which is set to take place in Las Vegas from April 23-25, according to The Dallas Morning News.
A difficult process has become an increasingly difficult process because of the outbreak, not just for the Patriots, but for all NFL teams who need to continue to evaluate hundreds of players over the next month or so. Hopefully, it doesn't impact their decision making during free agency and the draft. But it's hard to imagine it won't. Because of that, it could negatively impact how the next few months play out for the entire league. But right now, that seems like that least of humankind's worries.