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NFL cancels league meetings as coronavirus effects are felt in its offseason

Running back Marcelias Sutton went through drills at Oklahoma's Pro Day Wednesday in Norman, Okla.
Running back Marcelias Sutton went through drills at Oklahoma's Pro Day Wednesday in Norman, Okla.Alonzo Adams/Associated Press

The NFL announced Thursday afternoon that it has canceled the annual owners meetings scheduled for March 29-April 1 in Palm Beach, Fla., because of the coronavirus outbreak. But no decision has been made about the NFL Draft, set to be held April 23-25 in Las Vegas.

And more importantly for Patriots fans, the NFL has not pushed back the start of the 2020 league year, meaning the chase for Tom Brady in free agency is slated to continue as scheduled. As of Thursday evening, free agency is still set to begin at 4 p.m. next Wednesday. The tampering period will still begin at 4 p.m. Monday, when agents are allowed to start speaking with teams (but players cannot visit teams until two days later).

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Even though free agency remains on schedule, it may be slowed by the coronavirus. Many free agent signings happen after the player has visited the team, but several teams said they will not be hosting players in the foreseeable future.

Teams also will have a tougher time performing physicals and medical checkups on their free agent targets. The NFL has not banned teams from hosting free agent visits, instead leaving the decision up to the individual teams.

Other immediate league matters remain on schedule as well. NFL players still have until midnight Saturday to vote on the proposed collective bargaining agreement. And teams still have until midnight Monday to decide whether to use a franchise or transition tag on players.

Many colleges canceled their upcoming Pro Day events, which will prevent teams from seeing more workouts and getting one-on-one interviews with prospects — a key part of the predraft process for players who weren’t invited to the NFL Combine.

At least 14 teams announced Thursday that they are closing their team facilities and/or taking coaches and scouts off the road for the foreseeable future. The Patriots did not make any announcements Thursday, though a team source said everything is being considered.

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Clemson football player Tee Higgins runs the 40-yard dash during NFL Pro Day Thursday.
Clemson football player Tee Higgins runs the 40-yard dash during NFL Pro Day Thursday.Richard Shiro/Associated Press

According to a league source, New England had multiple staffers at Clemson’s Pro Day Thursday. Most NFL teams had a presence at the event, even as responses and travel restrictions around the league were shifting rapidly.

No one in the NFL community is known to have tested positive for the coronavirus, but this portion of the league calendar involves a lot of travel.

“It’s my strong recommendation that my players don’t travel for any team visits," said longtime agent Mike McCartney. “With 12 or more games played, an all-star game and combine for most, teams have enough information to make an informed draft decision."

The draft itself could become a television-only event, and the 30 predraft visits per team that start in early April could be canceled.

On Thursday, the NFL announced that it canceled two events scheduled for March 27-29: A regional combine, and a combine for athletes from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Two other events that could eventually be pushed back or canceled: Offseason workouts are scheduled to begin April 6 for teams with new coaches, and April 20 for teams with returning coaches; and rookie minicamps are scheduled for May 1-4 or 8-11.

As for the league meetings, where the owners vote on a wide variety of rules proposals for the upcoming season, the NFL has shifted most business to the spring meetings scheduled for May 19-20 in California.

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“There will be full consideration and votes on any open football issues, including playing rules, bylaws, and resolutions, as well as other business matters that were on the agenda for the Annual Meeting,” the NFL said in a statement.

“Most of the first day will be dedicated to football-related issues. Head coaches and general managers will participate in the meeting.”


Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride. Nora Princiotti can be reached at nora.princiotti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @NoraPrinciotti.