The NFL’s decision was made in consultation with the competition committee and the NFL Players Association. But it appeared possible late Wednesday that the NFLPA might seek even further reductions. According to multiple people familiar with the union’s planning, the NFLPA has a conference call scheduled for Thursday evening among its team-by-team player representatives.
“I think everything is on the table right now,” one of those people on the players’ side said.
The league can set the length of the preseason without NFLPA approval, however, and does not intend to budge from its two-game plan even if the union seeks further reductions, according to a person familiar with the NFL’s planning, who said, “It will be two.”
The change, if enacted as planned, would leave each NFL team playing two exhibition games in late August in advance of a regular season scheduled to begin Sept. 10. Even with the recent uptrend in coronavirus cases in many states, league officials have remained committed to starting the regular season on time and have continued to express optimism that it can be played to completion.
Shortening the preseason enables the NFL to limit teams’ travel and perhaps reduce the risk of players, coaches and other personnel being exposed to the virus. It also gives players more time at the beginning of training camp to ease into full-speed on-field activities following an offseason in which there were no on-field practices. Teams’ offseason programs for players were conducted entirely remotely.
The NFL previously canceled the preseason-opening Hall of Fame Game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys that had been scheduled for Aug. 6 in Canton, Ohio. It appears likely that the league will eliminate the first and last weeks of the original preseason and tweak some of the matchups and scheduling details of what remains. That leaves each team playing one preseason game between Aug. 20 and 24 and another between Aug. 27 and 31. Each team would have one preseason game at home and one on the road.
The league and union were concerned about players, without the benefit of offseason practices, suffering injuries during training camp without a gradual ramping-up of football activities.
The NFL plans for teams to play games at their home stadiums during both the preseason and regular season. League officials have said the issue of whether fans will be in attendance during the regular season will be determined team by team and city by city, based on local health guidelines. That policy is expected to be followed during the preseason, according to those familiar with the NFL’s planning.
If fans are permitted in stadiums, the NFL is considering the possibility of recommending to teams as a best practice that fans be required to sign a coronavirus-related waiver, a person familiar with the issue said. The possibility of such a waiver was first reported by the Athletic. The league and teams are expected to have a variety of protocols in place, potentially including mask-wearing requirements and social-distancing measures for seating patterns within stadiums, for any fans in attendance.
The league has told teams to expect to report to training camp on time; for most teams, that means camp will open July 28. Teams must conduct training camp at their regular season training facilities, and joint practices between teams have been prohibited. Teams have been sent protocols for the players’ return to team facilities, but key details such as testing frequency and treatment procedures remain under discussion between the league and union.
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