The NFL canceled its annual league meeting scheduled to begin later this month, becoming the latest sports league to make changes to its operations in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The league said it did not plan, as of early Thursday afternoon, to postpone next week’s opening of free agency. It made no decision about next month’s NFL draft, but league leaders were considering draft-related contingencies, according to multiple people familiar with the NFL’s planning. The draft will be held as scheduled, they said, but it might have to be limited to a television-only event.
League officials were “discussing all matters,” one of those people said early Thursday. “Stay tuned.”
The NFL is not in season but is in the midst of a busy offseason stretch.
The league meeting had been scheduled for March 29 to April 1 in Palm Beach, Florida. Owners, coaches, front office executives and their family members were scheduled to attend the spring meeting. Owners were to take a renewal vote on the system making pass interference reviewable by instant replay and consider other rule-change proposals.
But there was relatively little pressing business, compared to other years, and the owners are scheduled to meet again in May. The league said Thursday that coaches and general managers will attend that meeting, scheduled for May 19-20 in Marina del Rey, California. All rules-related votes of the owners now are to be taken at that meeting.
“The decision was made consistent with the league’s primary concern to protect the health of club and league employees and the public while enabling the league to continue with its essential business operations,” the NFL said in a written statement.
The league’s biggest public event in the coming weeks is the NFL draft, scheduled to be held April 23-25 in Las Vegas. The league could cancel or curtail the public portion of the event and stage the draft and televise it from a private venue, such as the Los Angeles studios of the league-owned NFL Network.
“We will continue to closely monitor developments, consult with leading experts, and be prepared to make any changes necessary as circumstances warrant,” the league said in its statement.
A person close to the situation said the NFL hopes to preserve the live event in Las Vegas associated with the draft but realizes that might have to change, pointing out that the draft is six weeks away and circumstances could change by then.
“We have time,” that person said.
Teams’ preparations for the draft also could be affected by the spread of the coronavirus. Some teams have begun to cut back on travel schedules for scouts and other evaluators as they travel to evaluate players at on-campus pro days. The Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings were among the teams to announce Thursday they were suspending travel for coaches and scouts. The Philadelphia Eagles announced they were shutting down their training facility.
The league said it told those employees in its New York office not needed for daily operations to work from home. Teams’ IT departments spoke to the league via conference call to discuss operational issues in this environment. Even so, the league said it intended to move forward next week with its player-related business.
Teams have until 11:59 a.m. Monday to decide whether to use transition or franchise tags on players to limit their free agent mobility. Players eligible for free agency, including New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, can begin negotiating Monday with all teams, and the free agent market officially opens Wednesday.
The players’ voting on the proposed collective bargaining agreement with the owners runs through 11:59 p.m. Saturday. The NFL Players Association sent a memo to agents Thursday reminding them to encourage players to cast their votes by Saturday night’s deadline.