With the clock turning over to 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, March 18 2020, it’s officially the new league year for the NFL.
That means that every player that had an expiring contract after the 2019 season is now a free agent. It means players that have come to an agreement over the past two days of “tampering” are now free to sign an actual contract confirming their new jobs. It means any trades that have been agreed to in principle over the past two months can be made official.
That being said, there are several complications that could cause the delay in official transactions.
Normally, this would be a day in which free agents would land in their new home city, take a promotional photo or two while they sign a new contract and shake hands with their new coaches. Unfortunately, none of that will be happening on Wednesday.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the NFL imposed these limitations on free agency, effective immediately (bolding is ours):
During the upcoming free agency period, which begins on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 18, NFL clubs may not bring any free agent player to a club facility or other location to meet with club personnel. Further, club personnel, including members of the club medical staff, may not travel to any location to meet with or conduct a medical examination of a free agent player.
The NFL and NFLPA are developing protocols that will provide clubs with opportunities to review a free agent player’s medical records from his prior club(s) and to arrange for a free agent player to have a medical exam in the player’s home city or at another nearby location. These steps are consistent with those announced last Friday for club contact with draft-eligible college players.
Teams cannot give out physicals. They cannot meet face-to-face with any free agents—even if they already agreed to a deal. They can’t even fly out and meet the players at their location.
This could also cause the delay in certain free agents finding a new team, as a physical remains an extremely important part of the process for many players coming off injuries. The NFL is in the process of getting independent doctors to perform physicals near the players’ location, so there’s a good chance many official announcements will be delayed.
Additionally, starting at 4 p.m. ET teams can release players with a with a post-June 1 designation, which lightens the 2020 dead money on some contracts (spreads it over two years). In other words, another set of players could be hitting the free agency market.
With all of the complications, no one exactly knows what is going to happen, but let’s sit back and enjoy the new year. New Year. New Hope. Go Lions!