Shipley: NFL chugs on as COVID-19 envelops nation
ST. PAUL -- As we all contemplate the stark possibility of being non-essential, it’s somewhat comforting to know that something as non-essential as the NFL barrels on as if nothing has happened.
The rest of the world might be stopped in its tracks, but it’s business as usual for the best football players and coaches in the world, assuring the future remains bright for, say, Kirk Cousins, who this week agreed to play an extra two seasons for the Vikings at an additional cost of $66 million.
Tone deaf? Maybe.
While millions of Americans lose jobs to the rampant spread of the novel coronavirus, the quarterback who has won one playoff game in eight professional seasons has secured himself the financial portfolio of a minor oil emirate. But why begrudge a man who has built a lucrative career by being in the right place at the right time?
Besides, many of those bearing the financial brunt of the pandemic will be rooting for Cousins if and when the NFL resumes play in the fall, and being able to even talk about football news at the moment is a genuinely welcome respite from a reality that grows darker by the day.
And the Vikings, it turns out.
The Vikings will need every league-mandated moment of practice time to build continuity on what has been a traditionally stout defense under head coach Mike Zimmer. On Friday, it was veteran defensive end Everson Griffen who left to find deeper pockets, but of more concern is the secondary.
The Vikings might not have been in love with many, or any, of the players they’ve lost, but they a) have to replace them and b) have to get them playing well enough to keep the Vikings in contention for their first Super Bowl appearance since 1977.
Another short postseason likely will bring an end to the current regime. Management has given Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman every accommodation, expanding the payroll and coaching staff, and improving the facilities.
But we digress.
In a world of disruption and insecurity, the NFL is marching boldly on, declining to cancel its two major events since COVID-19 began stopping the rest of the world: the Feb. 23-March 2 combine in Indianapolis and the April 23-25 draft in Las Vegas, which like its predecessor will be televised but closed to the public.
No word on whether the top picks will show up for their photos with Commissioner Roger Goodell.
It’s worth noting that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended this week that organizers cancel or postpone events of 50 people or more for the next eight weeks, a recommendation that extended already extant shutdowns of the NHL, NBA, MLS and Major League Baseball.
“Hold my beer!” says the NFL.
Holding the draft as scheduled might be a closed-door affair unlikely to spread infection among the hoi poloi, but it’s still a bad look. Not that it will matter; the NFL has survived more politically fraught public relations disasters, from the way it fought the link between football and brain injuries to its policies on domestic and sexual assault among its ranks.
Undeniably entertaining and masterfully packaged for television, the NFL has proven immune to backlash, encompassing a national base that draws from all walks of life and all points between left and right.
We’ll see what happens on May 1, when the league’s teams expect to start three-day rookie mini-camps that aren’t particularly mini. Most NFL teams hit 50 souls with coaching and support staff alone. So, that will be interesting, and the first indication of whether training camp might be expected to open in late July.