COVID-19 and the NFL: Bears' decision on football activities shouldn't be on them


Update, 7 p.m.: The Bears suspended all business travel, closed their two offices and cancelled their April 24 draft party on Thursday night

The NFL’s free agency period is still set to begin next week, as of the writing of this sentence. It shouldn’t be. 

It’s okay if we have to wait a little longer to find out who the Bears add to their quarterback room, or if Ryan Pace is going to go all out to sign Austin Hooper. It’s okay. “Flattening the curve" of the COVID-19 pandemic is much more important. 

There’s part of me that would welcome the distraction of the NFL’s negotiating period beginning Monday afternoon, and the new league year beginning on Wednesday. Free agency is fun. It’s a time for fans to have hope and project what the new guy could do, whether it’s a third-string wide receiver or potential starting quarterback. 

But this isn’t just about free agency. As SI’s Albert Breer wrote in arguing for the league to push its schedule back: 

“And I’m starting to think that’s what they have to do for a very simple reason: These teams should not have to balance competitive issues against the health of their people. Continuing forward with the NFL calendar as it stands puts pressure on teams, intended or not, to push ahead with their offseason plans, because if we don’t, and this other team does, we’ll be behind.

Putting teams in that spot is, quite frankly, irresponsible.”

Pushing back the league year would allow teams to hunker down for a few weeks, minimum, while not feeling like they’re at a competitive disadvantage. Force teams to be okay not traveling or having entire staffs report to their facilities. The top 30 visits and trips to college campuses for pro days and private workouts should be postponed. They’re not important right now. 

It’s how the NFL can do its part as the United States battles COVID-19, just as in-season sports like the NBA and NHL have done their part by suspending play. 

The Bears have yet to say they’re pulling their scouts and front office folks off the road and/or are closing Halas Hall to non-essential personnel. A few teams have done either or both: Washington, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, San Francisco, Kansas City, the Giants, so far. There will be more. Maybe a critical mass of teams will push the league in the direction in needs to take. 

This shouldn’t be on the Bears to decide, though — it should be the NFL’s decision. While the league isn’t playing games, it still has a part to do to in our nation — and the world’s — effort to contain this deadly virus. It’s time for the league to step in. 

And if that means a longer wait for some clarity on the Bears’ quarterback situation? That’s okay. 

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