Ladies and gentlemen, it’s safe to say that the National Football League, and in fact the sport of American football altogether (including college), dodged a bullet on this one.
With the 2019-20 coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic pretty much halting every sports league in its path, the NFL has been able to carry on normally, and NFL football fans across America, as well as the few that reside in other parts of the world, have been able to still enjoy a crucial part of the league’s offseason: free agency.
Just like free agency in every other sport, it can be delightful for fans who see major marquee players move into their squads, and devastating for other fans who say goodbye to their favorite players as they look for other opportunities elsewhere.
At least the States have some sporting news to enjoy, though, right? With the NBA and NHL called off for now, and the MLB delaying its start, the NFL, which ended its 2019-20 season in February, won’t start until September 10, so unless the virus keeps growing until then (which, of course, hopefully isn’t the case), there should be no mixups with the upcoming season’s timing.
However, there have been major changes to the format of the league after a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) was introduced in late February. Some of the changes include a 17th regular season game (instead of the regular 16) for each team, as well as a new expanded playoff field of 14 teams, seven per conference (as opposed to the usual 12 teams, six per conference). With more open playoff spots, the NFL has moved above Major League Baseball in the percent of teams that make the playoffs (47% vs. 33.3%, as the MLB has 10 teams make the postseason out of 30).
Sucks for the Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers; they would’ve made the playoffs last year (the Rams with a 9-7 record in 2019 and the Steelers with an 8-8 record) if this new change to the playoff format was reinstated just a year earlier.
Not only did the playoffs change, but this was the last year of the Oakland Raiders franchise’s existence as, well, the Oakland Raiders. They will be relocating to Las Vegas, Nevada, where they will begin their tenure in Sin City as a tenant of Allegiant Stadium for the 2020 NFL season after 22 seasons in Oakland, California.
Okay, okay, back to free agency. There have been shocking moves around the league, but none more than the departure of Tom Brady, considered by many to be the greatest quarterback of all time, from his beloved New England Patriots, of whom he was a member since he was drafted in 2000. This is the first time he will play for a different team and a different coach, having played under Bill Belichick, the NFL’s longest-serving NFL coach (who joined the Patriots, like Brady, in 2000), as he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, made official by the NFL (and Brady’s Instagram) on March 20.
This move marks the end of an era, as the Patriots have been one of the most dominant and successful teams with both Brady and Belichick, winning six Super Bowl titles. Brady himself is a three-time NFL Most Valuable Player and a four-time Super Bowl MVP. Their most recent title was during the 2018 season, when they defeated the Los Angeles Rams 13-3 in Atlanta, Georgia. All of the Patriots’ championships have come while Brady and Belichick were with the team.
Brady is probably going to replace longtime Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, who is now a free agent after five seasons with the team. Winston was named to the Pro Bowl in his rookie year, becoming the first quarterback in Tampa Bay history to do so. Funny enough, it was because Brady chose not to participate in the game.
Brady, however, isn’t the only franchise player leaving his organization after a long time. Cam Newton, who spent nine seasons as a member of the Carolina Panthers, was released by the team this offseason, and is now a free agent. Newton won NFL MVP in the 2015 season and led his team to a 15-1 record that year before losing to the Denver Broncos 24-10 at Super Bowl 50 in the San Francisco Bay Area. Newton is actually being considered as a possible replacement for Brady in New England.
Also, Philip Rivers, known throughout his 16-season career as a San Diego/Los Angeles Charger, and eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback, mutually agreed with the Chargers that he would not resign and enter free agency, eventually landing with the Indianapolis Colts.
Other notable free agency moves include 2017 NFL Offensive Player of the Year Todd Gurley, a running back, signing with the Atlanta Falcons after being released by the Los Angeles Rams, and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders leaving the San Francisco 49ers to sign with the New Orleans Saints. Players who resigned with their current teams include New Orleans Saints franchise quarterback Drew Brees, Arizona Cardinals Pro Bowl and All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, and 49ers defensive lineman Arik Armstead.
Even with both these profound break-ups between player and team, no transaction has been more criticized than the Houston Texans trading DeAndre Hopkins, one of the league’s best wide receivers, to the Cardinals for a 2020 second-round draft pick, a 2021 fourth-round draft pick, and running back David Johnson. Texans general manager and head coach Bill O’Brien has been getting heavily slandered after trading one of their star players for what appears to be nothing. Now Arizona have two elite receivers in Fitzgerald and Hopkins, and with NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Kyler Murray running the plays at QB, this has the potential to be a scary offense.
Many teams, as you can see, have made moves, and there could be a potential power swing in the coming years. NFL football this year hopefully won’t be delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, and it’ll be interesting to see how the teams fare with their new signings and absences. Comment below: what is your favorite NFL team? What are your predictions for the upcoming season?