The COVID-19 pandemic defined NFL free agency in 2020. Top talent couldn’t fly into cities to meet with different teams, organizations watched their spending, and the offseason dragged on far longer than normal. Unfortunately, we could be headed for the same scenario this year.
The NFL started bracing for this to happen before the regular season even kicked off. Preparing for lost stadium revenue, thanks to health guidelines and social distancing, significantly fewer fans would be allowed in NFL stadiums. With billions of dollars in revenue lost, clubs and players expected things to be challenging this offseason. Sure enough, that’s exactly what we’re headed towards.
Impact of COVID-19 on 2021 NFL free agency
During the 2020 NFL season, the league operated with a $198.2 million salary cap. But in the summer, following years of the salary ceiling skyrocketing annually, teams started bracing for the financial ramifications from the COVID-19 pandemic. A problem that will just be part of the headaches COVID causes in free agency.
Thanks to an agreement with the NFL Players Association, the NFL set a 2021 salary cap floor of $175 million. The figure would prevent a disaster scenario, with the league forced to drop its cap by $50-plus million due to the lost stadium revenue. By spreading out the financial blow over the life of the new CBA, fewer players would be cut this offseason and teams would have more financial flexibility.
As of now, the projected 2021 NFL salary cap is around $180 million. That means a significant chunk of teams will be forced into moving on from some marquee players that they can’t afford to pay under their current contracts.
This year’s NFL free agency class already offered a lot of talent. With more key players expected to be cut, the market will be flooded with talent seeking financial stability and opportunities to shine. But, much like we saw last offseason, that won’t be the only issue this spring.
Related: Top 25 NFL free agents in 2021
During an appearance on Pro Football Talk Live, Peter King detailed the issues everyone will face in NFL free agency. Teams likely won’t be permitted to host players for visits, a key factor that has helped players determine which team they will sign with. Additionally, clubs may also be limited in the number of physicals they can conduct.
It would follow the same precautions the league is taking for the NFL Scouting Combine, which was canceled. If a player wants to interview with a team, it will likely need to be done virtually.
The NFL put a hold on player physicals in March 2020 and it impacted free agency. Jadeveon Clowney couldn’t meet with clubs to prove he was healthy, which played a role in him not signing a contract until right before the regular season.
Delayed physicals could also mean it takes longer for players to sign. So, teams might have to trust independent doctors or a physician close to the player to conduct the physical, with the results then sent to the club.
While plenty of progress is being made in the fight against COVID-19, it’s evident that the NFL offseason still won’t be close to normal.