Saints' Payton expects free agency delay, changes to draft

·3 min read

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton said Saturday he expects Wednesday's opening of the 2020 NFL league year, which marks the beginning of free agency, to be delayed due to coronavirus.

"Most immediately, the start of our league year, which is due to be this Wednesday, I think, when free agency begins -- that's gonna be, I think, pushed back," Payton told TVG Network at the Rebel Stakes in Host Springs, Ark. "Because there's a lot that goes into that. There's a lot of visits that players take."

The league year is officially scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, but multiple media outlets have reported that date could be pushed back.

Pro Football Talk reported Thursday that the NFL was considering delaying the start of the league year but didn't want to announce any changes until after Saturday night's deadline for players to vote on the new collective bargaining agreement.

ESPN reported Saturday that multiple team officials are skeptical the league year will start as scheduled, despite the NFL saying everything will proceed as normal. That report also pinpointed the CBA voting deadline as a likely precursor to any decision, as the league doesn't want to delay the vote.

The Washington Post reported the NFL and NFLPA are expected to discuss Sunday whether to delay free agency and postpone teams' offseason programs, which normally begin with conditioning in April before moving to on-field work for OTAs and minicamps in May and June.

Players have until 11:59 p.m. ET Saturday to vote on a new 10-year CBA, which would go into effect with the new league year if approved by a simple majority. According to ESPN, the voting results are expected to be available Sunday morning.

Other important deadlines are approaching sooner than Wednesday's opening of free agency. The deadline for teams to use the franchise or transition tags on players -- which has already been pushed back multiple times -- is set for Monday at 11:59 a.m. ET. One minute later marks the opening of the legal tampering period, which allows agents for pending free agents to talk to other teams.

The NFL has already canceled its league meeting at the end of this month, along with all pre-draft visits for college prospects. Most teams have suspended travel of all employees, closed their facilities and/or installed work-from-home policies.

It's unclear if the draft, currently scheduled for April 23-25 in Las Vegas, will be delayed or altered, but Payton said he expects the structure to be different.

"I don't know if that's going to change, date wise," Payton said of the draft. "Certainly the format's going to change, relative to what they're used to."

Multiple media outlets have reported the league is considering a variety of contingencies for the draft, including the possibility of it being conducted remotely, without players or fans in attendance.

The league has ramped up the draft in recent years, moving it to different locations and adding a variety of fan-centric attractions to boost attendance. A record estimate of more than 600,000 fans visited Nashville for last year's draft, according to the NFL.

The draft also typically includes at least 20 or 30 of the top prospects in attendance.

--Field Level Media