It might not be obvious to some, but the COVID-19 pandemic has already had a profound effect on the NFL’s 2020 season, even if the league has done its best to go about business as usual, even recently essentially forcing the NFL Draft through, against the wishes of many general managers around the league.
Team facilities, for example, are shut down to all but essential personnel until at least the eighth, at which point the situation will be reassessed. They will determine then if they can reopen in an even limited capacity; if not, the status will remain as it was, with another re-evaluation date to be set.
Already, all NFL-related travel has been barred. Teams are not allowed to travel, nor are they allowed to host free agents or draft prospects. They are limited to basically FaceTiming for their pre-draft visits instead, and those visits still come with restrictions.
One of the hidden effects that fans are not going to see is that all of these contracts you see players signing contain clauses in them for the teams that is tied to the circumstances of the coronavirus. Because free agents are unable to travel, teams have to rely either on 2019 exit meeting physicals or physical conducted by a physician local to the player. Their team physicians don’t have access to these players.
“Because teams are unable to oversee physicals due to the coronavirus outbreak, they have added provisions in player contracts stating that failed physicals will result in forfeited signing bonus money”, Jeremy Fowler reported last week on behalf of ESPN.
This could understandably disproportionately affect players who are rehabbing from injuries or who had surgery, such as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Eric Ebron, whose signing was announced over a week before he actually signed the contract to make if official. He had ankle surgery last year, and the physical is what held back making it a done deal. You can bet said deal has this type of clause in it.
“Clubs are permitted to expressly condition a free agent’s eligibility to receive and retain bonuses or an injury guarantee upon the player being given and passing a physical examination by the club’s medical doctor when travel restrictions are lifted”, Fowler quoted a league source as saying.
It could still be months before players are actually able to meet with their new teams and go through a physical, so their guaranteed money could be hanging in limbo all that time. Perhaps not all teams will be so strict with this policy, but enough will, and it wouldn’t be surprising if this issue comes up months from now.