At this point, the NFL is full steam ahead on the 2020 season. And for their part, they appear to be set up to manage everything well. Personally, I feel pretty confident that they will be able to get this season off without much of a hitch as it relates to Covid-19, provided that they don’t slip and let their guards down.
Fallout will last for years, however, stemming from the practical and economic ramifications of the pandemic, and it will continue to unfold in unknown ways. The two most immediate areas of concern are the damage that it will do to the salary cap, particularly in 2021, but also beyond, as well as the college football landscape and how it relates to the 2021 NFL Draft class.
Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert addressed these issues and how the team intends to approach them in speaking to Kevin Clark of The Ringer recently, regarding the cap, his thinking was simple: work with what you know.
“We know the cap can’t be any lower than 175 million. Can it go higher? Yes. Will we know that in the short term? No”, he said. “We just have to assume it will be at that low number and if things change we’ll change along with it. We’ll deal with the known now”.
Basically, act like the 2021 salary cap will be $175 million unless or until it’s not. In the meantime, they continue to do business, recently reaching a four-year contract extension with Cameron Heyward. There has been a report that they are working on reaching one more extension before the offseason is completely through as well.
With the cap plunge, though, Pittsburgh is still expected to see an exodus of talent leave in free agency, like Bud Dupree, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner, and Alejandro Villanueva to top the list. That places even greater importance on the 2021 NFL Draft—which figures to include the largest number of prospects in history who did not play collegiate football in the previous year.
“The one thing, the conferences that chose not to play, and the players that opted out, we understand all that. Obviously, they are doing it for safety and health, first and foremost, and we respect that”, he said. “However, the players that get the opportunity to play and choose to play, we feel more comfortable in their evaluations”.
“Because I just don’t know, sitting out a year, what those players are going to look like having missed the season. There’s just not a real natural source of information saying, ‘well, when this player sits out, he’ll be this’ because we just don’t know”, he added. “We respect the fact that they aren’t playing, but we also have to make the best decisions and I think the best decisions we’ll be able to make are the ones where we can see them play in 2020”.
When pressed, Colbert was emphatic in saying that they would lean on players who put down 2020 tape when it comes to comparing two prospects who are very similar, and would favor those with more recent tape as the tiebreaker.
Of course, that depends upon who the prospect is. Really, the potential for a lot of players who did not play for a year will make for an interesting draft, not just in the act, but in the long-term. I would imagine many of these players will fall, but many will prove to outplay their draft ‘pedigree’ in the long run after hurting their stock due to not playing (most likely because they were not permitted to).