Last Friday, a few days after the league decided to trim the number of preseason games from four to two, the NFL Players Association (“NFLPA”) voted on whether or not the 2020 NFL preseason should be played at all. The players voted to cancel the upcoming preseason and came up with a potential solution if the NFL follows the wishes of their players and eliminates playing meaningless football this year.
The vote came as a result of discussion within union leadership on whether it would be smart to play any preseason games, and after two days of time to mull the current situation regarding a return to work amid the COVID-19 pandemic, players decided in favor of a longer runway for preparation for the NFL’s regular season. The NFL, meanwhile, maintains a desire to trim the preseason schedule from four games to two in an effort to create a longer ramp-up period for players.
Training camps are set to begin in late July, and this week the NFLPA laid out a potential four-stage plan of protocols for a unique preparation period that would replace the preseason.
The first stage would be medical physicals for all players upon reporting to camp, which would last three days, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. The following 21 days would make up the second stage, a strength and conditioning program to prepare the players’ bodies for a return to football activity. From there, teams would move to a third stage that would resemble OTAs in which players would participate in 10 days of non-contact, non-padded practices before eventually shifting to a 14-day fourth stage that would be focused on what camp traditionally looks like, with potentially 10 total practices with a maximum of eight padded practices.
“The players I’m told are expressing a number of concerns on this call,” Garafolo said during an earlier report on NFL NOW. “Not the least of which, is if there’s so much concern about this virus right now, why are we returning to work, period? And I was told that one of the medical experts said that is something you’re going to have to decide on an individual basis. Basically, are some players going to opt out based on risk factors and just how they’re feeling about themselves and their family? So that is something to watch going forward.”
There has been talk for years of the NFL cancelling or shortening the preseason, if for nothing else than to use that as leverage to increase the number of games in the regular season. It’s reasonable to expect the NFL to cancel the preseason this year due to fears from COVID-19, with players instead battling it out in training camp and practices to make the team.
The most interesting part of this report is the discussion of individuals to making decisions about whether to play. MLB and the NBA have seen players step away and opt out of playing in their shortened seasons. The last paragraph of the report above is basically stating that some players are going to get the Coronavirus this season, everyone is going to be at risk, and it’s going to be up to the individual to decide if the risk is worth it.
NFL training camps are still set to begin at the end of July. Between now and then, there is a lot that is unsettled.