Explaining delay on Darqueze Dennard signing with Falcons

Darqueze Dennard (21) is in a holding pattern when it comes to potentially signing with the Atlanta Falcons. (Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Darqueze Dennard (21) is in a holding pattern when it comes to potentially signing with the Atlanta Falcons. (Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)

It was more than just a visit for Darqueze Dennard.

With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting how the NFL will operate this season, reported visits on the NFL personnel notice will serve as a great indicator that a team is looking to sign a player. And given the COVID-19 protocols in place, officially signing a free agent will be a lengthier process than normal this season.

Dennard popped up on the NFL personnel notice as having visited the Falcons on Thursday. However, no one can walk inside a team facility without three negative COVID-19 test results. Per an NFL official, reported visits from the personnel notice are designed to start the process of testing a free agent for COVID-19 and administering a physical, with the purpose of signing the player.

In Dennard’s case, the Falcons want him to test negative for COVID-19 each time and pass a physical before signing. That’s why there has been a delay for Dennard to be officially announced as a new member of the Falcons.

If everything goes well for Dennard, there is a chance he is officially with the team by Sunday or Monday. If he tests positive for COVID-19 then the Falcons are unlikely to sign him.

There is a strategic reason to avoid signing Dennard until he clears the COVID-19 protocol. If Atlanta signs Dennard before the testing process begins, and Dennard tests positive, he would be placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list and remain there until he is cleared to return, all while his salary counts against the cap.

This situation is similar to what happened with the Braves and Yasiel Puig. The Braves and Puig agreed to a deal in principle but it was contingent on Puig testing negative for COVID-19. When Puig tested positive, the deal was off.

If Dennard is able to join the Falcons, it’s assumed he would step into a starting role. While parameters of a potential deal between the Falcons and Dennard are unknown, the Jaguars and Dennard initially agreed to a three-year deal worth $13.5 million earlier this offseason. However, the deal fell through at the last moment, resulting in Dennard remaining a free agent.

The Falcons are looking at Dennard to play nickel, according to a person familiar with the situation, which could shake up the rest of the cornerback group a bit. If Dennard starts at nickel, this could suggest either of two things:

  • Kendall Sheffield would compete with Isaiah Oliver for a starting outside cornerback spot. Sheffield did finish the 2019 season as a starter in Atlanta’s base package and played outside in college at Ohio State. Therefore, this would not be a new role for Sheffield. In this scenario, first-round draft pick A.J. Terrell would be the presumed starter on the other side.
  • In the absence of a preseason, Dennard’s presence inside could allow the Falcons to start the year with Sheffield and Oliver on the outside while easing Terrell into the defense. Of course, first-round draft picks don’t typically stay on the sideline for long. But normally, a full offseason would include rookie minicamp, organized team activities, mandatory minicamp, training camp, joint practices and preseason games. Only a scaled down training camp exists this year, which could force teams to use the beginning of the regular season as an acclimation period for rookies.

Dennard’s status with the Falcons will become clearer in the next couple of days. His presence would not only bolster the cornerbacks numbers wise, but add significant experience to a young position group.