The NFL is taking precautions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and announced Friday that it is restricting any in-person interviews between teams and draft prospects. Several teams, including the Falcons, have pulled coaches and scouts off the road to better protect them from the virus.
The league's announcement that teams cannot, as of now, conduct in-person interviews comes in the midst of intense preparation for the upcoming NFL Draft. Clubs gathered in Indianapolis recently for the NFL combine, a key time for coaches and scouts to meet with prospects, but in-person interviews at facilities provides yet another opportunity to further understand a player's fit inside of a locker room.
While teams can't meet with prospects in person, they will be permitted to conduct video interviews and can speak with an individual player up to three times per week. Falcons President and CEO Rich McKay, who is also chairman of the NFL's Competition Committee, doesn't believe the new policy will have a large impact on Atlanta's preparation for the draft.
"Our scouts have interacted with these players numerous times over the course of a couple of years on their college campuses and have a pretty good feel for them," McKay said. "… Do I think it's a big deal? It's certainly different, but like anything else, when change comes you've got to adjust, and I think we'll be able to adjust. You've got to remember, we've done an awful lot of work on a lot of these players and we're ready to go for the draft. This becomes that final check, and now a cross-check too, if you will, and maybe we're just going to have to find a different way to do that."
Of more urgency on the NFL's calendar is the start of the new league year and free agency, which begins on March 18. The league has previously stated it does not have any plans as of now to postpone the start of free agency, but it remains to be seen how the decision by some clubs to close facilities could impact this time of the year.
There are several teams around the league, the Falcons being one of them, who agree to terms with players on the principals of a contract pending the passing of a physical exam. That is, they essentially reach an agreement on all aspects of the contract prior to the physical taking place, but the contract is not actually signed until after the physical is passed. This protects the team in case any issues occur during a player's physical, and McKay believes that will be normal operating procedure during this free agency period until players are able to meet with team doctors.
"I think we're all having those calls, and we did, ourselves, internally today on numerous different occasions," McKay said of preparing for free agency. "I think we have for many years, for as long as I've been in the league, and I'm one of those guys that people would say 'forever' and it's a cheap shot, we've had a bunch of times when you've agreed to terms with players and it's been subject to a physical. That's not a problem, we can still do that and still do that today, even without travel. It may just take a little while for that contingency to be checked, meaning the physical."
The situation regarding COVID-19 remains a fluid one and new information or decisions from the league could occur at any time over the coming months. For now, the Falcons are adjusting to the new rules put into place and continuing forward with their plans for free agency and the draft.