What happens if the 2020 NFL season is postponed or cancelled?

LANDOVER, MD - OCTOBER 06: A Washington football helmet is seen on the field before the game between the Washington football and the New England Patriots at FedExField on October 6, 2019 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - OCTOBER 06: A Washington football helmet is seen on the field before the game between the Washington football and the New England Patriots at FedExField on October 6, 2019 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

I haven’t been here very long, and virtually everything I have contributed has been fun to write.

I felt a twinge of sadness while penning a tribute to Bobby Mitchell after he passed away a few months ago, but even that had some sweet along with the bitter as I watched some old highlights and fondly recalled memories of No. 49. But this little piece is not fun at all. Today, I’m thinking about what it means if the 2020 NFL season is cancelled.

As recently as 24 hours ago, I had no intention of exploring this. Then, several things happened all at once. I’ll mention the others shortly, but the final straw came this morning when I read a comment from one of our regulars – razorblade17 – mentioning that he was beginning to worry the season may be a no-go. It was in the comments section of Ken Johannesen’s 2013 draft re-grade, and normally the comments would be about the failure of David Amerson or the revelation that was Jordan Reed. But not so with this particular comment.

And what struck me most was that I was thinking the exact same thing. For the first time since the NBA closed shop back in March, I am beginning think there’s a real chance the NFL will not have a 2020 season.

Up until now, it had seemed as if the NFL had once again rolled double sixes. The timing of the pandemic meant that whereas other sports might be devastated, professional football would have the time and the space and the acquired knowledge to sidestep the worst of it. Up until now, I was thinking there would have to be a few minor inconveniences, but the season would not be forestalled, as happened to the NBA and NHL, or seriously delayed or contracted, as is currently happening with baseball.

But the news has continued to get worse and worse. I’ll leave the actual epidemic analysis to those far smarter than I. Looking solely at the world of sports, the past few days have seen positive coronavirus tests coming from players on both the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans. That was always likely to occur, and the NFL is still trying to develop workable protocols for how to proceed when this happens.

Perhaps more ominously, negotiations between management and players in both the NBA and MLB have hit serious obstacles. In the NBA, this may not prove to be debilitating. But the rhetoric coming from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred this past week has been truly disheartening. If you are a fan of baseball, hearing his angry denunciation of his own players’ negotiators must leave you with serious doubts about when you will next enjoy watching major league baseball.

What these events have highlighted is how truly difficult it will be to pull off an NFL season in 2020. Not impossible, certainly. And at this point, I still think it is better than 50-50 odds that there will be games in some form this fall. But those odds may reflect my wishful thinking.

The NFL has never missed an entire season. Games went on during WWII. After 9/11, the league instituted a one-game postponement, in part a reaction to its opposite decision to play games as scheduled after the JFK assassination. Chunks of seasons have been missed, but always due to labor disputes. And the disputes always ended in time to salvage some semblance of a season.

That may not happen this time.

What happens if no games are played in 2020? There are a load of legal issues to be resolved. Contracts have been signed between clubs and players, clubs and venues, clubs and advertisers. Events have been planned. If there is no force majeure clause in these contracts, the ultimate disposition will have to be negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

As for the league itself, what happens to the schedule, the 2021 draft order, network contracts? Does everything simply get bumped a year? As for the players, base salaries are typically paid in 17 equal parts – one for each week that games are played. If games are played. If there are no games, there is no money due.

Many veteran players may have a nest egg to fall back on. If they have been putting away money for life after football, they may have to dip into savings earlier than expected, but there should be money available. But for younger players, especially those just beginning their careers, this may end their dreams before they even begin. It is not hard to see a young player needing to get some other job to get by while waiting and hoping for the return of the NFL. The longer the league is down, the less likely it becomes that such a young man will ever play in the NFL.

And at the other end of the scale, if there are no games in 2020, will we ever see Larry Fitzgerald in a professional football game again? Mike Adams and Ben Watson have already announced their retirements since the pandemic began. How many older players might decide this is the time to relax a bit?

And what of Tom Brady? There is reason to believe he will insist on playing forever, but forever is coming. If Brady is forced to stop competing for an entire year at age 42, is it so hard to think he might never lace them up again? Of all the teams that will find themselves struggling in the event of an interrupted or postponed 2020 season, none stands to suffer as much as Tampa Bay. Excitement was sky-high with Brady and Rob Gronkowski headed south. If there is no 2020 season, there is a real chance Bucs’ fans will never see numbers 12 and 87 suited up for their club, and that would be devastating to the franchise.

The Redskins are not positioned all that badly to handle whatever may come. They are not reliant on a corps of older players who would be adversely affected by missing a season. The development of key youngsters like Dwayne Haskins and Saahdiq Charles may be hindered, but smart franchises will find work-arounds. Besides, everyone will be in the same boat.

There will be major collateral damage. There always is during any work stoppage. The hourly employees who sell beer and park cars. The restaurants and bars that rely on NFL games to bring in crowds. The college kid who was going to have an internship and potentially launch a career in sports management. They will all suffer to some degree.

And then there are the rest of us. The fans. We all know that football, no mater how we speak about it, is not life and death. It is a diversion. But we also know that no matter how we speak about it, it is not just a game either. It matters to us, often in ways that defy logic or explanation. We have chosen it as one of our “things.” One of the things we check on when we wake up or before we go to bed. It is something to look forward to and something to reflect back upon. Something to break our hearts and make our hearts sing. Something to make us feel.

What if everything breaks right for the 2020 Redskins?. dark. Next

The NFL is a juggernaut. The Redskins are an historic franchise. Both will most likely survive whatever happens in 2020. But if we have learned nothing else these past few months, it’s that the unthinkable is always possible. And even if it doesn’t get quite as far as the unthinkable, we may all have to reassess how we spend our Sundays, our Thursday and Monday nights, our autumn of disquiet and dismay.