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NFL, NFLPA appear tone deaf in not delaying free agency

Vic Carucci

Silly. Ridiculous. Idiotic.

Those words swirled through my head as the NFL and NFL Players Association continued their blind, tone-deaf surge toward the start of free agency.

Fans typically greet this spot on the calendar with uncertainty and anxiety, wondering how things will play out as they eagerly monitor media reports for the latest information.

In that sense, this week is no different.

In every other way, it bears zero resemblance to anything that any of us have ever seen.

Life as we know it has ground to a halt, a trend that began with the NBA suspending its season and baseball and hockey and the NCAA following suit in an effort to minimize places where large numbers of people are in close proximity.

Schools are closed. Restaurants are limiting service to takeout. Theaters are shut down. Other businesses, including NFL teams, and government agencies, are having employees work from home. At least one state is implementing a curfew. The San Francisco Bay Area has directed citizens to shelter in place until April 7.

In the meantime, we’re instructed to avoid gatherings of 10 or more and wherever we go, we should keep a safe distance from others. The basic rule of thumb is, if it isn’t essential to leave home, stay there.

Along with all of the social ramifications of the worldwide spread of the coronavirus, there’s the staggering economic fallout. And as ever-growing fear/panic tightens its grip, what possibly could have possessed the NFL and NFLPA to believe that pushing forth with legal tampering Monday and the start of the free agent signing period and new league year Wednesday was a good idea?

After all, the NFL saw fit to stop pre-draft prospect visits to facilities while team after team pulled scouts and coaches off the road. It saw fit to cancel its annual meeting, which was to be held at a West Palm Beach, Fla., resort next week. And on Monday, it announced that, while its draft will proceed as scheduled April 23-25, the public events planned in Las Vegas during the selection process are off.

As I typed this, I was informed that two family friends in the food service industry had lost their jobs. Another friend said her mom was in a nursing facility in lockdown.

So, sure. Let’s hear all about those mega-million-dollar contracts being signed. Let’s be comforted by the knowledge that teams are conducting business as usual and filling those key spots on their rosters, because, of course, we’re going to blink and this will all be behind us … and the NFL season will be rolling along with those of other leagues and colleges … and this whole thing will feel like it never happened.

Good luck with that.

The fact that the NFL and NFLPA on Monday night established new rules for free agency, saying that clubs "may not bring any free agent player, including their own, to a club facility or to other location to meet with club personnel" and that "club personnel, including members of the club medical staff, may not travel to any location to meet with a free agent player" seems to support the notion that the league is proceeding half-heartedly at best.

I realize what is happening in the NFL this week happens every year and that for plenty of fans, following the developments is every bit as entertaining as what happens on the field. I have no problem with who is getting paid what or the billions available for players.

That’s all part of what the market will bear and what negotiators can accomplish.

My issue is with the timing. This doesn’t have to happen this week. There were reports that the NFL, in fact, wanted to delay the start of the league year and the NFLPA rejected the idea right after its members narrowly approved an extension of the CBA. Union executive director DeMaurice Smith insisted that wasn’t the case during a Monday appearance on ESPN.

One way or another, the brakes needed to be pumped. This can be done later.

To those who would argue that free agent signings need to happen now because the situation with COVID-19 could and probably will get worse, my question is, “What makes you think the situation isn’t already at the stage that makes this time any better? What, other than wishful thinking, convinces you that the 2020 season – for which there is yet to be a full schedule – is going to start on time?”

For a league that is supposed to be acutely aware of maintaining the best image possible, this is about as bad a look as you can get.

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