JACKSONVILLE – This is an unusual time. Very unusual.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) has made that true for the nation and world – and it has been true for the Jaguars at the start of the 2020 NFL League Year, too.
Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone acknowledged as much recently, but also said coaches and personnel officials have been able to execute free agency as usual – and to continue to effectively prepare for the 2020 season.
The work hasn't been easy. But it has been getting done.
"It's a challenging time," Marrone said late last week.
Marrone said much of the coaching staff worked from home last week; the entire staff is now working remotely, as is the personnel and front-office staff. That's unprecedented during March, when the NFL calendar calls for coaches to install offensive and defensive schemes and assist with the draft and free agency – and for personnel officials to execute free agency and prepare for the draft.
"With this computer age we're in, it's very simple for us to work from home," Marrone said. "We're in an evaluation situation where we have free agency and the draft coming up. Everyone has everything they need at home. Obviously, everyone's on call.
"We're getting the most out of it, at the same time keeping everybody safe."
Marrone said Facetime and videoconferencing has allowed coaches to work on the playbook, passing information via email.
"With this type of technology, we're able to do the same thing and keep going forward with the playbook and what we want to do schematically – plus, our evaluations," Marrone said. "We're very fortunate to be able to get that done with the technology we have today."
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the NFL in more visible ways, too. The NFL Annual Meeting scheduled for next week in Palm Beach were canceled, and the April 23-25 2020 NFL Draft – originally scheduled to be held in Las Vegas – will be held without fans at a location yet to be determined.
The ongoing free-agency period also is different from previous offseasons, with teams delaying physicals – and foregoing player visits and introductory press conferences – because of travel bans and restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people.
"It's obviously different," Marrone said. "It's something that hasn't been done before. At the same time, we have to realize what our priorities are: to make sure everyone's safe and we're doing things the right way and making sure we're following the protocol of the federal government, state government and everything that's going on.
"It's a challenge, but it's one we can all wrap our heads around and understand why we're doing things the way we're doing it. Safety is the first priority – not just for free agents, but for the traveling and doctors and everything else involved with it.
"When you look at the risk reward, it's obviously a high risk right now. I think we're all doing the right thing and the league is doing the right thing."
The league also has altered offseason programs, with the NFL and NFL Players Association announcing last week those programs will not begin April 20 as originally planned for teams without new head coaches.
"It's challenging, because you don't know what tomorrow holds or when you're going to have the players back," Marrone said. "We're preparing to make sure we have everything ready. The next question is, 'When do you get the players?' Then it starts to become more of a challenge. If it's the same amount of time, less amount of time, no time … we're just taking it day by day.
"This is what we have to do now. We have our schedule where we have things that have to get accomplished, day-by-day, week-by-week. We're going to continue to do that as it goes on. Whatever happens, whatever moves that are made because of this virus, we'll adjust.
"That's what I've always said. One thing about coaches is we'll always adjust."
A key for Marrone during this time: open communication. Toward that end, he said he made it a point to speak with players in position groups where the Jaguars signed free agents. Marrone said he spoke to middle linebacker Myles Jack last week as the team went through the process of signing middle linebacker Joe Schobert, a signing that will allow Jack to move to what Marrone called Jack's more natural position of weak-side linebacker. "I've always told the players, 'I want to make sure we communicate,' and they know what's going on that people in the building know what's going on," Marrone said. "You just want to be able to tell the truth. You don't want all of a sudden Myles reading something that's not the intent at all. I wanted to talk to the players and say, 'Hey, this is what happened. This is his we got this decision. This is what we were thinking. This is where we feel this player's going to fit. This where this player's going to compete.'''