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Don’t be surprised if the coronavirus pandemic impacts the start of the NFL season

In this photo illustration the American football league The... Photo by Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Editor’s note: We usually have a firm “no politics” rule in the comments section. Local and federal government decisions that have a direct effect on the Seahawks or the NFL as a whole will be posted here. We are going to ease this rule up but only because the article itself has politics involved. You can discuss how coronavirus impacts the Seahawks (or the NFL), you can discuss the good and bad of the policies that have been enacted, but do not turn it into partisan mudslinging or just trashing specific politicians (whether warranted or not).

The Last Holdout: American Football

The NFL regular season is still penciled in for September 10, 2020. It should be in Arrowhead Stadium with some yet unnamed underdog taking on the Kansas City Chiefs.

But as has been the case with each day over the past two weeks, nothing is certain. To date, the NFL has not officially cancelled anything past the 2020 NFL Draft festivities in Las Vegas, as they’ve remained the only major U.S. sport whose game calendar has not yet been impacted by COVID-19.

But as things progress, it’s impossible to think the season will be completely unaffected.

Projecting damage or duration is somewhat pointless, because even still there are such varied reports. A few known factors however, such as public response and population density, have shown how countries can fare better (South Korea) or worse (Italy) in the days ahead.

As fast as the virus progressed in Italy, America is, as always, not to be outdone. The United States has the fastest rate of newly confirmed cases in the world, primarily because we’re finally testing more people.

The point, as it relates to football and our Seattle Seahawks is this: numbers are going to look much, much worse, before they look better. We’ve already started the train of political leaders taking preventative action. It would be career suicide to scale back on those measures as the numbers of positive cases explode over the coming days.

We are, therefore, not asking a pointless question. This coronavirus is likely at least ten times as deadly as the flu. So as the numbers of confirmed cases grow, and may do so for some time, we’re forced to wonder when the tipping point is. It was mid-March when the NFL pulled the plug on a live audience at the draft in Las Vegas. How many days out will they start making decisions on rookie camp? On the preseason? On opening day? Will state or national restrictions even allow for such numbers?

The Year Ahead

Here’s a rundown of the usual NFL calendar, taken from The most important dates obviously being rookie minicamp on May 1st, Spring Meetings, Rookie Transition Program, and then July training camp.

As it stands, all of those gatherings are in jeopardy. At the very least, post-draft rookie camp feels like a small chance of progressing normally.

Many have already noted that the virus-related restrictions have affected team GMs this offseason.

Inability to get physicals, travel, and meet with team doctors at team facilities have already slowed the pace of free agency this year.

For some context, here’s how fast this thing has been moving in our country. Mere days ago, teams thought they’d just be able to fly guys around privately to stay safe.

That was March 16th, and oh how foolish we were back then. Within a couple days, all such notions were out as teams were no longer able to oversee physicals themselves. This resulted in trusting another doctor (and why would you ever do that), as well as putting coronavirus clauses into contracts signed this year.

It is fast, and the problem is that as of this writing, it has not showed any signs of slowing. Obviously, it will slow down at some point—see China and South Korea, and logic. But America is quite large, and apparently slow to test, and is at one of the fastest rates of increase in the world. On Saturday, March 21st, the United States reported the second most amount of new cases in the entire world.

It’s still too far out to say whether the first official game of the season will be cancelled, delayed, or played in an empty stadium. But it’s a possibility we should at least consider. Far more likely, is this season will be an extreme version of the direction the NFL has been headed for a number of years. Practices and meetings are going to be even more limited than this new CBA allows.

Chances are good, if things continue to be slowed by this virus, then we may have an even more dysfunctional start to the season than usual. Offenses and offensive lines will be particularly disjointed, as they often are for so many teams.

Scenario 1: We all get to go outside real soon and everything football is fine after the draft

Probably the least likely of the bunch, for most of the reasons stated above. It would take a complete reversal of the direction this nation’s various leaders are headed - starting today - to have nothing past April 23rd be impacted. Seattle public schools have already called it quits until that weekend (at least). The University of Washington has already made the decision to go remote/online for the entire spring quarter, from March 30th to June 5th.

So no, I don’t believe the NFL will be business as usual on May 1st. For a couple hundred personnel per team to be permitted to meet in locker rooms, weight rooms, and meeting rooms, it seems like things would have to scale back instead of maintain current trajectory. Not to mention the rigorous full contact practice in pads middle school-level track practice that these guys are asked to participate in during the summer. It’s a germ’s best-case-scenario.

At the very least, rookies are going to have an even harder time adjusting this season than normal. It seems like teams have gotten creative with getting physicals passed during free agency, and it will require even more ingenuity just to get material and coaching to their newest additions.

Scenario 2: A shortening or postponement of the NFL Season

Put simply, if there are any restrictions on mid-sized gatherings at the state or national level in August, this will happen. The NFL would probably never head straight into the season if a majority of preseason games are missed.*

No details have been released as to what this scenario would look like because it’s so far out. However, there’s already plenty of 1300-word speculations that say nothing more than the previous sentence.

This would be bad, bad, bad. For a number of reasons. First, it would mean that every major sporting season in the United States was cut short by COVID-19. Second, it would indicate that we were all at home a lot longer than we wanted to be.

But from a football standpoint, it’s legitimately possible that this season is just plain weird. We’ve already got Saints head coach Sean Payton confirmed with the virus. If the season is shorter, or preseason is nonexistent, this year could absolutely wreck the analytics crowd for years to come.

Not to mention, the Seattle Seahawks just signed an entire offensive line in free agency, and worldly wisdom says those guys need time to get in sync.

*Emphasis on probably. It is the NFL, after all.

Scenario 3: Original start date, parts of preseason affected

What this really hinges on is the level of restriction and nervousness that continues into July and August. Everything from here on out is conjecture, but this is where I’d put money, if the NFL ever decided to make resuming normal activity a prop bet. There are hints as to how far out this thing will last, even if it’s not in the form of statewide quarantine or anything of that sort.

Some of the most reliable sources on America’s largest enterprises, such as the two Disney parks, are predicting not reopening until mid-May at the earliest. Several states have closed school for the remainder of the year (mid-June) and others are close behind. The CDC’s projections suggest that we could be against this virus for the long haul.

With an effective vaccine likely at least 12 months away, researchers are scrambling to find therapies for the coronavirus. Collaborative effort,

At this point it’s safe to say that rookies will have it rough this year. Some of them have even been sent home from their universities and training facilities, to sit at home, potentially in cities where clubs and gyms are closed. Then, after being drafted, they’ll be able to practice with their new teams......some time this year?

If you thought the injuries to Seattle’s rookies last year harmed their development, this summer could be similar.

Last season, the Seahawks broke tradition and got off to a hot start before injuries dragged their season to a crawl. If Russell Wilson and his offense are able to make some magic while the rest of the technique catches up, this might play to their strengths. But this roster is still very young, with rookies from last year that need more reps. Rookies from this coming class who will perhaps not be counted on to contribute, all things considered.

It’s a long road ahead for the NFL, and to all our readers, please stay safe and smart out there. Or better yet, just stay home and re-read all our articles.