NFL should consider delaying the start of free agency

As American citizens deal with an unprecedented public-health crisis that has begun to disrupt daily life for millions and will continue to do so, the NFL needs to take a candid, clear-eyed look at a major event planned for next week.

Free agency begins on Monday. (Technically, Wednesday; as a practical matter, Monday.) Players will agree to terms on multi-million-dollar contracts. Reporters will breathlessly tweet the news and analyze the terms. Press conferences will tout the deals, with new shirts proudly held up (while reporters are kept a safe distance away).

And it will all seem ridiculously trite and trivial and tone deaf.

Free agency doesn’t have to start next week. It needs to start, at the latest, a couple of weeks before the draft. And the draft doesn’t need to start on April 23, especially if it’s ultimately going to be moved from a public venue to a TV studio.

There’s no reason not to press pause while the world adjusts to this abnormal new normal that may take some time to actually normalize. With the situation becoming more serious at an exponential rate, the league needs to think not about how things are now (bad) but how they could be in five days (much worse).

A delay would also have a potential collateral benefit, in the event the vote on the new CBA fails on Saturday night. The extra time resulting from the delayed start of free agency could give the NFL and the NFL Players Association one last chance to work out a new deal before the start of the 2020 league year. (Then again, the notion that the owners would dial back some of the terms of the current deal if it has the chance definitely isn’t bluster.)

Regardless, NFL free agency — one of the major offseason tentpoles — becomes ridiculously meaningless when playing out against the ever-changing coronavirus pandemic. People won’t care, especially in the short term. While on one hand the churning of reports and rumors and signings will provide a much-needed diversion for many, it may be too soon for any diversions, given the speed with which this situation is unfolding.