As some NFL players expressed wariness about participating in the 2020 season amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, their union and the league were attempting to work out the details by which they would prepare to play and the rules by which they could choose to sit out.
The NFL and NFLPA also are working on guidelines that would govern how individual players could opt out of the season, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.
Thom Mayer, the NFLPA’s medical director, and Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, addressed players on Friday’s conference call. Players asked questions about the medical protocols being developed by the league and union. Some expressed concerns, according to multiple people familiar with the call.
The NFLPA has begun to prepare for the possibility that some players will choose to sit out the season, as has been the case in Major League Baseball and the NBA. The NFLPA previously instructed agents to have discussions with players by mid-July and advise them to consult with doctors and consider medical risk factors when deciding whether to play.
The league and union must decide how such opt-outs would be handled contractually. Those discussions are underway.
For those who choose to play, the length of the preseason will be an issue. The league decided Wednesday, when team owners on the NFL’s bargaining committee met via conference call, to cut the preseason from four to two games per team. The league previously canceled the preseason-opening Hall of Fame Game scheduled for Aug. 6 between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys in Canton, Ohio.
Under the NFL’s plan, each team would play one preseason game between Aug. 20 and 24 and another between Aug. 27 and 31. The first and fourth weeks of the original preseason schedule would be dropped, and there would be some modifications made to what remained, giving each team one home game and one road game. The shortened preseason was designed to give players more time to gradually ramp up football activities after an offseason without on-field activity.
As of late Wednesday, the NFL was unwilling to budge on its two-game plan, according to a person familiar with the league’s view. The collective bargaining agreement empowers the NFL to set the length of the preseason, without union approval, as long as the league is not attempting to lengthen it beyond four games per team.
But the NFLPA seems to have reservations about players being exposed to coronavirus-related risks for essentially meaningless games. The union’s preference for no preseason games was reaffirmed during Thursday night’s conference call with the team-by-team player reps.
During that call, players were told they could be fined for behavior, in violation of medical protocols, that might spread the virus to teammates, coaches and other personnel. Such fines would fall under CBA provisions relating to conduct detrimental to the team. But the possibility of those fines was raised only as “a discussion point” on the call, according to a person familiar with the situation.
Most teams are scheduled to report to training camp July 28. The NFL previously sent teams the protocols for the players’ return to training facilities, but key details about testing and treatment remain under discussion. The NFLPA has told players to expect to be tested about three times per week.