NFL decides it’s business as usual; won’t delay free agency or start of new league year

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s business as usual for the NFL.

At a time when the coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc with global sporting operations, the league has decided to move ahead with its normal schedule. That means the new league year and veteran free agency begin Wednesday at 4 p.m., which is preceded by “legal tampering’’ Monday at noon.

According to several national reports, the NFL sent memos Sunday evening to its 32 teams informing them the schedule remains firm.

It’s the latest news on a rather newsy Sunday. Earlier, the NFLPA announced its membership approved a new collective bargaining agreement with owners that ensures labor peace through 2030. The vote for ratification: 1,019-959.

Locally, the Indianapolis Colts and veteran Anthony Castonzo agreed on a two-year, $33 million extension that made him the league’s highest-paid left tackle in terms of per-year average.

Individuals seeking some degree of diversion from the COVID-19 issue should brace themselves for a busy few days.

Teams and players with expiring contracts can begin negotiations noon Monday. Nothing can be finalized before 4 p.m. Wednesday.

The Colts have several areas to address, and might do by selective shopping on the veteran free agent market. After locking up Castonzo for two more seasons, they should have approximately $65 million in space under the projected salary cap of $198.2 million.

Along with determining whether to seek a veteran upgrade over quarterback Jacoby Brissett, general manager Chris Ballard could be in the market for a defensive lineman, tight end or wideout.

During his post-season meeting with the media, Ballard reiterated his general sentiments to using free agency as a serious roster-building tool.

“You cannot buy a championship. You cannot buy a locker room,’’ he said.

However, last month at the NFL Scouting Combine he also made it clear that’s always an option.

“Look, we are going to stay the course of how we believe in team building,’’ Ballard said. “We want to be able to acquire young players and develop our own and develop them as Colts.

“I’m not saying we won’t enter into free agency because we have, but it won’t be our main source of player acquisition. We will continue to build this thing the way we see fit and the way we think you can win football games.’’

Ballard’s three-year history with the Colts tells us he likely will be a selective shopper. His more significant free-agent acquisitions include Justin Houston, Jabaal Sheard, Johnathan Hankins, John Simon, Denico Autry, Eric Ebron and Devin Funchess.

While determining how active to be in free agency, Ballard and his personnel staff also must decide which – if any – of their own free-agents-to-be are worth re-signing.

Players whose contracts expire Wednesday include: placekicker Adam Vinatieri, Sheard, Ebron, safety Clayton Geathers, wideouts Funchess, Chester Rogers and Dontrelle Inman, offensive linemen Joe Haeg, Le’Raven Clark and Josh Andrews and running back Jonathan Williams.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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