While virtually every sports league around the United States has come to a screeching halt due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus, the NFL League Season officially got underway this week with free agency and a new collective bargaining agreement. In a flurry of moves and announcements, the NFL has at least given sports fans something to follow during their quarantines.
A new collective bargaining agreement or CBA was passed by the NFL players this past weekend by a narrow vote of 1,019 yes votes, to 959 no's. The proposed deal was a polarizing topic amongst NFL players, with many taking to social media to propose their thoughts on the deal.
The passing of the deal brings many new features to the NFL over the course of its 10-year life span. Starting in 2021, the NFL owners have the power to expand the NFL regular season from 16 games to 17 games. Many players have voiced their displeasure of this, and the details of how exactly it will work have yet to be worked out. Starting in 2020, the NFL playoffs will expand from 12 teams to 14 teams. Each conference will be represented by 7 teams, with only one 1st round bye a piece. This differs from the previous format where two teams got 1st round byes, and only 6 teams represented each conference. Player concessions included a higher share of revenue, higher base minimum salaries, and the elimination of marijuana tests.
After the new CBA was in place, the new league year got off and running. Major free agent signings and trade deals have blown up the headlines over the course of the past week. The Baltimore Ravens kicked started things by trading a 5th round draft pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for 5-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Calais Campbell. The Tennessee Titans followed that by locking up quarterback Ryan Tannehill on a 4 year $118 million dollar extension after he led the Titans to the AFC Championship game last season.
As the week progressed many of the league's hottest names were off the market. Former Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper signed a 4 year $44 million dollar contract with the Cleveland Browns that will make him the highest-paid tight end in the NFL. Ex-Dallas Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones signed a 5 year $82.5 million dollar contract with the Miami Dolphins that will make him the highest-paid cornerback in the league. Wide receiver Amari Cooper re-signed with the Dallas Cowboys on a 5 year $100 million dollar deal.
Some players decided to leave the only teams they had ever known for greener pastures. Longtime Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers decided to sign a 1 year $25 million dollar contract with the Indianapolis Colts, while tight end Jason Witten left the Dallas Cowboys for the Las Vegas Raiders on a 1 year $4.75 million dollar contract. Witten had spent 16 years playing for the Cowboys. Perhaps the biggest news of NFL Free agency was the announcement that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was leaving the franchise. Brady spent 20 seasons in New England, winning 6 Super Bowls in 9 appearances, going to 14 Pro Bowls, and winning 3 NFL MVP awards. Brady is widely expected to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Some big named players were franchise tagged by their clubs. The Dallas Cowboys elected to use theirs on quarterback Dak Prescott. The Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs used theirs on sack leader Chris Jones, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers used theirs to retain linebacker Shaquill Barrett. The Tennessee Titans retained 2019's leading rusher, Derrick Henry, via franchise tag, while the Cincinnati Bengals used theirs on top wide receiver A.J. Green.
Explosive trades also helped shape the ever-changing outlook on the 2020 NFL season. The aforementioned Campbell trade was just the opening salvo. The Indianapolis Colts traded their 1st round pick in the 2020 Draft (13th overall) to the San Fransisco 49ers for star defensive lineman DeForrest Buckner. The Minnesota Vikings trade star wide receiver Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills for a package of 4 draft picks. The Titans trade 5-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey to the Denver Broncos for a 7th round pick, while the Jacksonville Jaguars moved quarterback Nick Foles to the Chicago Bears for a 4th round selection. The most stunning trade news of the week was the Houston Texans trading superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and a 4th round pick to the Arizona Cardinals for running back David Johnson and a pair of draft picks. Hopkins is widely known as one of the best players at his position, and the Texans were not known to be taking offers.
While some players were busy finding new homes, others have been released and are now searching. The Los Angeles Rams released 3-time Pro Bowl running back Todd Gurley, 2 seasons after signing him to an extension that made him the highest-paid running back in the NFL. The Atlanta Falcons released 2-time Pro Bowl running back, Devonta Freeman, while the Vikings cut 3-time Pro Bowl cornerback Xavier Rhodes. A season after trading for him, the Denver Broncos released quarterback Joe Flacco.
In another bit of shocking news this week, New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton has announced that he has tested positive for the Coronavirus. Payton is the first known NFL coach or player to contract the virus. Payton says he is upbeat and positive he will make a full recovery.
It has been a crazy time in sports, and despite no action on the hardwood or in the rink, the NFL is still making offseason waves in the headlines and giving sports fans content to follow. Hopefully sooner rather than later sports will make a return.