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Are the Chiefs being strategic about the NFL facility shutdown?

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The league has ordered a shutdown of all team facilities beginning on Wednesday evening — and teams like the Chiefs could be adjusting their strategy for an advantage.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Super Bowl Press Conference Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images

News broke Tuesday evening that in response to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL is now ordering all of its teams — including the Kansas City Chiefs — to shut down their team facilities by 5 p.m. Arrowhead Time on Wednesday.

NFL Network reporter Tom Pelissero had the first report of a memo NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent to all teams.

According to the memo — which Pelissero and other reporters published on Twitter — some exceptions to the facilities shutdown will be allowed:

  • Employees (such as athletic trainers or physicians) who are providing ongoing medical treatment to players.
  • Employees (such as the director of facilities, security personnel or independent contractors) necessary to maintain the physical security of the facility and its contents.
  • Employees (such as technology personnel) necessary to maintain the security and operational capabilities of the club’s IT network to enable remote work by club football and business staff.

Based on prior league recommendations, most teams (including the Chiefs) had already closed their team facilities and were conducting most operations remotely — but other teams were not.

In the memo, Goodell said that the directive would “ensure that all clubs operate on a level playing field,” and that until the league re-evaluated the situation on April 8, teams would still be “free to conduct all normal business operations, including signing players, evaluating draft-eligible prospects, selling tickets and other activities to prepare for the 2020 season.”

But how are teams supposed to accomplish these tasks?

Previous league directives had already prohibited them from meeting with draft prospects and free agents in their own facilities — or even traveling to meet players under consideration. Workouts, meetings and medical exams are a critical part of offseason decisions. Without them, teams are essentially reduced to making decisions that any armchair general manager could make from their favorite Barcalounger.

While commissioner Goodell should be applauded for making the effort to be sure all teams operate under the same conditions in these extraordinary circumstances, it seems likely that this will reduce the overall quality of the personnel decisions teams will be making. This could have substantive effects on all NFL teams in the coming season — and maybe even for years to come.

We know of an obvious example.

In 2017, the Chiefs decided to move up in the draft to select quarterback Patrick Mahomes after an hours-long meeting between Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid. If that meeting hadn’t occurred, we can’t say for certain the team wouldn’t have moved to select Mahomes anyway. But it’s undeniable that it had a substantive effect on team’s decision — one that will impact the Chiefs for at least another decade.

The league has already delayed the beginning of offseason team activities, but has steadfastly refused to delay the NFL Draft. On Tuesday, ESPN’s Dianna Russini reported the league’s general manager subcommittee had voted as one to recommend the league do precisely that.

And at least for now, the league has refused.

If the league forces teams to make personnel decisions without the proper information and then attempts to play the regular season on schedule — without the usual routine of offseason workouts, rookie minicamps and perhaps even training camp — the league’s competitive balance could be affected. Teams entering the coming season with fewer personnel changes would likely have a significant advantage over teams with many new players who haven’t had the opportunity to become acclimatized to their new surroundings and systems.

It’s possible that this might be a factor in the Chiefs’ offseason approach. A month ago, few Chiefs fans would have predicted that a week after the beginning of the new league year, both defensive tackle Chris Jones and wide receiver Sammy Watkins would still be on the team; most assumed that one or both would have been cut or traded by now.

But the Chiefs could be making a conscious decision to work out deals with players familiar with their way of doing things, rather than exchange them for draft prospects or free agents they lack the information to properly evaluate — and who may never get a chance to adequately prepare for the 2020 season.

Such an approach would be a big gamble — but if it works, the team could be at significant advantage as they begin their defense of the league championship in September.