Free agency was easy. The draft required some innovation. The rest of a typical NFL offseason, however, can't be replicated. The simple act of practicing together on the field, through organized team activities and minicamps, is prohibited by physical distancing requirements related to the coronavirus pandemic.
So how has the NFL adjusted? What can teams still do? And what does this mean for the usual timetable of opening training camps in late July? Let's take a closer look.
If they can't practice, what can NFL teams do?
The NFL and the NFL Players Association agreed on April 13 to a virtual offseason that would extend at least through May 15. During this period, teams can conduct classroom instruction, workouts and non-football educational programs via video conferencing or similar technology. Maximum instruction time during this period is four hours per day and four days per week.
All teams were allowed to begin on April 20, and no later than April 27, for a total of three weeks. Teams with new coaches were allowed a fourth week, if they chose, to conduct a voluntary minicamp.
As in previous years, the four-hour daily block is broken up into two segments. The team determines the timing of two hours of program time, between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., and the player chooses the other two.
How do players work out virtually?
The NFL is permitting teams to send players up to $1,500 worth of equipment such as medicine balls, kettlebells, resistance bands, Apple Watches and Fitbits. Teams can also send players a check of the same amount to cover purchases of similar items. Normally, the NFL considers such purchases a salary-cap violation.
During this time, coaches can teach and "install" their schemes, while strength and conditioning coaches can lead workouts. Or, in the case of the Seattle Seahawks, actor Will Ferrell can crash a team video conference to provide some levity.
What happens after May 15?
There will be a pause, created in part to allow the league to reassess physical distancing rules around the country. The NFL has asked teams to fulfill a set of protocols by May 15 in order for their facilities to be eligible for re-opening, starting with non-player employees. But it is possible that, at some point, an on-field portion of the more typical offseason program could begin. That shift would require agreement by the NFLPA.
So what if facilities remain closed or players are not allowed to practice on the field?
Teams can begin a second period of virtual offseason workouts on May 18 that could continue until June 26. Similar rules would apply.
Are players required to participate?
No. As usual, most of these workouts are voluntary. Participating players are paid a daily minimum of $235, plus credit toward workout bonuses if they have them in their contracts.
New Redskins head coach Ron Rivera explains the difficulties of not having contact with his players during this pandemic.
What about mandatory minicamps?
Teams are permitted -- but not required -- to conduct one virtual mandatory minicamp, assuming team facilities do not open. All players under contract would be required to participate and, as in other years, would be subject to fines if they do not.
Online instruction and virtual workouts would each be limited to two hours per day, and times would be scheduled by the team. Timing for virtual mandatory minicamps are at team's discretion but would need to take place before June 26.
This doesn't sound like a great way to get rookies acclimated.
Frankly, it's probably the best the NFL can do, in accordance with its collective bargaining agreement and under the current circumstances. On May 11, the league will open its seven-week rookie football development program, which replaced its annual rookie symposium in 2016. The program will consist of up to one additional hour of instruction per day, up to five days per week, for which rookies will be paid $135 per day.
Is it safe to assume rookies are going to have a tough time contributing if there is a 2020 season?
Many rookies will enter the season less prepared than they otherwise would be. But in the only recent parallel we have to the current situation, rookies played and performed equal to or in excess of previous averages. After the 2011 lockout, which wiped out the entire offseason program and delayed the opening of some training camps, 28 rookies played at least 50% of snaps for their teams during the regular season. From 2008 to '10, the NFL average was 23.3%, and the surge presaged a CBA-induced trend of an expansion of cheap rookie participation.
There were 13 rookies in 2011 who gained at least 500 offensive yards, compared to an average of 11.4 per season since 2000, and four rookies -- Julio Jones, Roy Helu, DeMarco Murray and A.J. Green -- exceeded 1,000 total yards. Meanwhile, 13 defensive rookies recorded at least five sacks, the league's highest total since at least 2000.
And as for the high-pick QBs, including new Cincinnati Bengals signal-caller Joe Burrow? Well, two of the four quarterbacks drafted in the first round in 2011 -- Cam Newton (No. 1 overall) and Andy Dalton (No. 35) -- started all 16 games for the Carolina Panthers and Bengals, respectively, that season. Blaine Gabbert (No. 10) started 14 games for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Christian Ponder (No. 12) started 10 games for the Minnesota Vikings. Newton's 56.6 Total QBR that year ranks eighth among 40 qualified rookie quarterbacks since 2006.
What about undrafted rookies?
Undrafted rookies will have it the hardest, in part because they often cycle on and off rosters. In 2011, the average undrafted rookie played 81.1 offensive or defense snaps. The previous three-year average was 101.8.
OK, what happens after June 26?
As in previous years, there will be a "quiet period" for teams and players. The primary NFL event in July is the supplemental draft, a typically anticlimactic affair that might have more juice this year.
Why would the supplemental draft be any different this year?
After the draft last month, multiple general managers speculated about the potential impact of a delayed or canceled college football season. Some NFL-eligible college players, who are at least three years removed from high school, might prefer to accelerate their professional timetable rather than wait for the NCAA season to begin.
How would that work?
At this point, it's unclear. The purpose of the NFL's supplemental draft is to account for players whose eligibility changed after the declaration period for the regular draft. It is typically not open for players who changed their mind or who want to declare to see what happens. The league must approve any application.
Would the NFL consider a college player's eligibility to have changed if the NCAA season is pushed back? If that question arises, the league would have a significant decision to work through.
What about the Hall of Fame enshrinement?
The NFL doesn't operate or own the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but it works closely with it to coordinate events. At the moment, the annual Hall of Fame game is scheduled for Aug. 6, and the 2020 class is scheduled to be enshrined Aug. 8. This year, a second group known as the "centennial class" is scheduled to be enshrined during a three-day event from Sept. 17-19.
The fate of the game, and the entire preseason, is in the hands of the NFL. As for the ceremonies, Hall of Fame executive director David Baker told USA Today that contingency planning centers around delaying those events, if necessary, rather than conducting them virtually.
Hasn't the NFL said it plans to play its full schedule on time, which would include the Hall of Fame game?
The NFL has confirmed no plans that would change the start of the regular season in September and, in fact, plans to announce its full regular-season schedule Thursday night. But that public posture is based largely on the amount of time between now and the fall, and the understanding that no one knows what condition the country will be in at that time. Multiple contingency plans are under consideration, and there are plenty of people around the league who, at the very least, doubt that training camp and the preseason will open as planned.
So could training camp and/or the preseason be shortened?
It's certainly a possibility. Other than money-making vehicles, preseason games aren't critical to preparing for a season. Teams have been planning for a potentially quick training camp, and the consequences to strategy, scheme and lineups could be significant.
New Washington Redskins coach Ron Rivera, for example, said he would give strong consideration to starting backup quarterback Kyle Allen over presumed starter Dwayne Haskins Jr. if the team has a limited time to prepare for the season. Allen played in offensive coordinator Scott Turner's system when both were with the Panthers and should have a quicker learning curve than Haskins.
"If we were told, 'Hey, you've got two weeks to go,' I would feel very comfortable with Kyle," Rivera said. "Because here's a guy that knows the system, has been in the system, and could handle it for us for a period of time."
What about officials? Don't they usually have their training seminar in July?
Yes, but according to the NFL's agreement with the NFL Referees Association, the officials' season begins May 15. Usually, officials travel to New York on the first weekend after that date for physicals and the start of their education on rule changes and adjustments. The NFL and NFLRA are in discussions on how -- and if -- they'd adjust the training schedule, which usually also includes an early-July seminar in Dallas.
So when will we find out about this year's rule changes?
Owners will conduct their May 19-20 meetings virtually and could vote on proposals that include a version of a sky judge and an adjustment to the onside kick, among other possible changes. The competition committee did not endorse either the idea of a sky judge or any tweaks to the onside kick, making them unlikely to pass. The committee also declined to endorse a renewal of replay review for pass interference, making that rule unlikely to return in 2020.
ESPN Stats & Information's Vince Masi and Daniel Greco contributed to this story.