Amid the seemingly endless flurry of news over the course of the past couple of days about this player signing with this team and these two teams orchestrating trades for such and such, it’s important to remember that, outside of teams re-signing their own players, restructuring deals, or signing street free agents, none of these things have actually happened yet, and are subject to change.
In a normal year, we usually see at least one or two deals that were initially reported reverse course by the time the new league year actually opens. Last season, for example, Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr had agreed in principle to a deal with the New York Jets; a day later, he chose to remain with the Vikings.
And this isn’t a normal year. Team facilities are closed. Nobody is traveling anywhere. Much of the country is virtually operating under lockdown conditions in some sense. We are facing a global pandemic that is fundamentally changing the way society is operating, let alone the sports world.
With players unable to travel to teams in order to take physicals, which generally is the final step in consummating a new contract or a trade, the only alternative solution is for players to see a neutral, local third-party physician, or for teams to rely upon players’ exit meeting physicals from the end of last season.
In most cases, this may be satisfactory for teams signing free agents. It’s a different matter when you’re talking about teams trading players, especially players who may have been injured, because you’re then relying upon the other team’s health diagnosis.
According to Pro Football Focus, the trades that have already been agreed to may still take some time before they are finalized because of this, based on a memo that the league sent around to teams in light of the restrictions that have been placed on the offseason.
Last offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers had already agreed to trade Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders and Marcus Gilbert to the Arizona Cardinals before the official start of the new league year. They haven’t made any trades this year, though they were reportedly trying to shop Ramon Foster prior to his announcing his retirement.
No player would better exemplify the issues this might arise than Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers, who is entirely expected to change teams this offseason, as Carolina is reported to be signing Teddy Bridgewater to be their starter. Newton missed most of last season due to injury, and they have informed him that he may seek trade options.
Trades do fall through because of failed physicals one team doctors get their hands on players. The Detroit Lions traded tight end Michael Roberts last year to the New England Patriots, for example, only to have it voided. In 2016, the Patriots traded Brandon Stork to Washington, but that too was voided due to a failed physical. In 2014, Roger Saffold worked out a big extension with the Oakland Raiders after being traded to them from the St. Louis Rams, but the deal, and the trade, were both voided when the Raiders failed him on their physical. Every team has its own standards, which will not be followed by a neutral third party.