Reports: NFL league year will start on time
The NFL's new league year — and with it, free agency — will begin as scheduled on Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET, multiple outlets reported Sunday evening, March 15.
The league reportedly sent a memo to all 32 teams confirming the schedule will not be changed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The news comes following reports earlier Sunday that there was a change of heart among people around the NFL, many of whom initially expected the league year to be delayed. The league and the NFL Players Association reportedly had talks earlier Sunday about the possibility, but no delay was made.
With the approval of the new collective bargaining agreement on Saturday night, players would have had to sign off on any changes to the scheduled start of the league year. Delaying the start would have put free agency on hold and perhaps pushed back the draft, which is currently scheduled for April 23-25 in Las Vegas.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the NFL said the NFLPA would not provide consent to delay the league year.
As such, all will go ahead as scheduled. The first notable deadline is Monday at 11:59 a.m. ET, the last chance for teams to use either their franchise or transition tag on pending free agents.
Noon ET on Monday then marks the beginning of the legal tampering period, allowing agents to speak to other teams about their clients and negotiate contracts. That period lasts until free agency officially begins at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, at which time deals can become official. Any trades previously agreed to can also become official on Wednesday.
Schefter reported earlier Sunday that there was "a different tone from teams" regarding the chance of a delay, as compared to the tone before players signed off the proposed CBA.
ESPN's Dan Graziano added that the expectation that there would be no delay had grown throughout Sunday, with sources providing three primary reasons:
— Free agency doesn't involve crowds and thus presents no risk to fans
— In-person visits aren't necessary to get deals done
— The fear that the league year gets pushed back and two weeks later the coronavirus outbreak is worse
Multiple teams have shut down facilities and ordered employees to work from home, including the Cincinnati Bengals, amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Bengals have the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft.
Saints head coach Sean Payton said during an interview Saturday that he expected the start of the league year to be pushed back.
The CBA, approved by a narrow vote from NFL players, creates an immediate impact for teams that had hoped to use the franchise tag and transition tag. The new CBA allows teams to use one of the tags, both not both.
Among teams impacted by the change are the Dallas Cowboys and Tennessee Titans. Dallas is attempting to retain marquee offensive players, including quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper, and the Titans are in limbo with running back Derrick Henry and right tackle Jack Conklin set to hit free agency. According to reports Sunday morning, the Titans are preparing a "big" contract offer to Henry.
The Titans reportedly agreed to terms with quarterback Ryan Tannehill on a long-term contract Sunday. While they did not release terms, ESPN's Jeff Darlington said it's a four-year deal worth $118 million, with $62 million fully guaranteed.
Meanwhile, draft prospect visits to NFL teams, who typically are allowed to host 30 players between the end of the NFL Scouting Combine and mid-April, are prohibited by the NFL. Instead the league ordered teams to conduct video or telephone interviews with draft-eligible players until further notice.
Had the league year been delayed, several major roster bonuses would have been pushed back with it. Instead, such bonuses will be paid out this week. The largest, according to NFL Network are:
Rams QB Jared Goff - $21 million
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger - $12.5 million
Jets MLB CJ Mosley - $10 million
Packers OLB Za'Darius Smith - $9 million
Eagles QB Carson Wentz - $8 million
Rams RB Todd Gurley - $7.55 million (and a $5.5 million base salary guarantee)
Bears CB Kyle Fuller - $7.5 million
Lions QB Matthew Stafford - $6 million
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers - $5.24 million
Vikings WR Adam Thielen - $5 million
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