Coronavirus won't affect NFL free agency, but could significantly affect the 2020 draft

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By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Since they're in mid-season, the NBA and NHL have been most directly and immediately affected by the coronavirus pandemic. But what about the leagues that are not playing right now?

Well, in the NFL the season basically never stops. Coaches, GMs, and scouts are all extremely busy scouting prospects for the 2020 NFL Draft, which for now is still on for April 23-25 in Paradise, Nevada. They're also working on figuring out their free agency situations, and that's more urgent because the league year is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. next Wednesday, March 18.

According to Adam Schefter and other reports, that is not going to change. The league is moving forward with the same date and time for the start of free agency. And, hopefully, the end of the insufferable #BradyWatch. It makes sense that teams would be able to negotiate and sign players remotely, although they may not be able to bring players in to their facilities for private visits and workouts.

That also extends to NFL Draft prospects. And that's where the league is most vulnerable right now.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 20: New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and friend Vinnie Colelli look on during the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 20, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 20: New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and friend Vinnie Colelli look on during the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 20, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Agent Erik Burkhardt and others revealed on Wednesday that the NFL is notifying agents that it is cancelling pre-draft facility visits. However, top NFL insider Ian Rapoport later tweeted that the league hasn't cancelled them entirely but is leaving it up to teams' own discretion. Despite that detail, it would be surprising at this point if a number of teams didn't cancel their visits.

March is always a busy month for teams getting ready for the draft. It's when many Pro Days take place. Per NBC Sports Boston's Phil Perry, the Patriots have several team scouts in attendance at Clemson's Pro Day on Thursday.

Teams also hold top-30 visits with prospects during this time. In the case of the Patriots, Gillette Stadium would host 30 pre-selected prospects for a free agent-like meeting and private workout. Four of the Patriots' 2019 draft picks - wide receiver N'Keal Harry, cornerback Joejuan Williams, tackle Yodny Cajuste, and quarterback Jarrett Stidham - were among their pre-draft visits last year.

With major pro leagues suspending play, it wouldn't be the least bit surprising if the NFL followed suit and disallowed free agents and prospects from traveling around the country at this time. If an NFL team carries on with business as usual, at the very least it would be a bad look. So whether the league cancels it or not, you'd have to think this is all trending toward the same result.

But for now, next week is going to be all football all the time with NFL free agency set to begin. We'll keep you updated here with everything on that. And you can get the latest updates on how coronavirus is affecting Boston sports with our live tracker.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].