By: Rob Bishop
Back again, and in an unprecedented move, the NBA announced intentions to suspend the regular season indefinitely on Wednesday night, an announcement that occurred as regular season games were either transpiring or set to tip-off. By all accounts, the indefinite suspension will not be brief, as reports have teams preparing to be out of action for at least a month, putting a mid-April return to action as a best-case scenario. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, the NBA taking a hiatus is small-scale as the world faces an ever-growing pandemic.
Sparking the NBA’s rushed decision to immediately halt games was All Star center Rudy Gobert of the Jazz testing positive for COVID19. Utah was set to face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night. Now, Gobert’s teammate and fellow All-Star Donovan Mitchell has also tested positive for the virus, raising concern surrounding the reach of the virus within NBA locker rooms, front offices, and fan bases. Given the two-week incubation period of COVID19, it’s easy to believe this is only the beginning of the virus’s impact on the basketball world.
Following the NBA’s bold move, Major League Baseball announced a cancellation of the remainder of Spring Training, as well as a minimum two-week delay to the start of the regular season. This was a necessary move given the alternatives, and even with a miraculous change in projections surrounding COVID19’s path, baseball’s regular season will certainly face an uphill climb to starting before May. Pitchers will need to either shut down their progression toward Opening Day, or continue to work without ongoing competition.
Now, though there are obviously far bigger concerns in the world right now, sports will continue to serve as a worthwhile distraction. With baseball and basketball—along with the NHL, MLS, etc.—on hiatus, all of the attention will turn to the NFL off-season, set to be in full swing soon. While a delay to the onset of free agency is certainly possible, as of now teams are able to negotiate with unrestricted free agents beginning on March 16. It is possible that date is pushed back, but rumors are already forming as the hot stove warms.
For the first time in recent history, the NFL free agent market is flush with not only starting quarterbacks, but elite starting quarterbacks. The best of the bunch are likely going to be returning to their respective teams, though anything is possible. Drew Brees is unlikely to leave New Orleans, and Dak Prescott will likely be franchise-tagged by Dallas. After those two, everything is up in the air. There are rumors surrounding a bevy of possible landing spots for Tom Brady, Phillip Rivers’ tenure with the Chargers is over, and Tennessee is in the difficult position of having to value Ryan Tannehill’s breakout season.
Elsewhere, Prescott’s favorite target Amari Cooper is also on the open market, and as the best available receiver, he’ll likely be the subject of a bidding war. Defensive lineman Chris Jones is coming off a star-level season for the Super Bowl-winning Chiefs, and as one of the best run defenders along the defensive line in the NFL, he is in line for a massive payday. Two cornerbacks, Byron Jones of the Cowboys and Chris Harris of the Broncos, are likely going to reset the market for their position. Jones has evolved into a star following a shift from safety, while Harris has arguably been the NFL’s best slot cornerback for the past half-decade.
Outside of the superstars under center , teams could look to cash in on quarterbacks littered with question marks such as Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, or Teddy Bridgewater. Also available is safety Justin Simmons, who is coming off a breakout season for Denver. Following three so-so years to begin his career, Simmons was a superstar for the Broncos, and at 26, is still in his prime. Tackle Jack Conklin is arguably the best offensive line on the market, excelling as a run blocker. Like Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry, Conklin presents a potentially huge expense for the Titans.