The NFLPA, which has had an internal task force of scientists investigating the COVID-19 pandemic since early March, held a conference call with player agents today. The focus of the call was regarding preparations and procedures for the upcoming 2020 NFL season.
There were several major topics that were covered, including where the league and NFLPA currently stand in regards to the current public health crisis and the league’s plans for returning to play. Here is a full recap of the call with my final observations and what it means moving forward.
No mini-camps through the end of June
One of the most immediate updates is regarding mini-camps through the end of June. As expected, those have been canceled. A memo explaining this will soon be going out to players. Additionally, they will tell the players that protocols for how to proceed will be developed in the next 30 days.
NFLPA preparing for salary cap reduction in 2021
The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) includes a clause on good faith negotiations for cancellations (games) and how it would impact a loss of income/revenue. This includes how it would impact the salary cap in 2021.
The NFLPA states that a season without fans would be a $3-plus billion loss of revenue, which would impact the salary cap next season. Because of this possibility, the NFLPA is preparing for a potential drop in the 2021 salary cap due to a loss of revenue from the 2020 season.
Concerns about players with pre-existing conditions
One major concern and topic of conversation centered on players who may have pre-existing conditions and are more vulnerable to the effects of contracting COVID-19. If a player in such a situation is unable to return to football in 2020, what will be the ramifications be for that player?
Because of this, there is a concern about protecting the compensation and contracts of players who are unable to return to a team facility and play in 2020 due to a pre-existing condition.
Veteran free agents prohibited from signing with teams?
Player physicals remain a major issue. Some teams disallow players getting physicals at the office of a team doctor and mandate the team doctor must perform said physical on players at the team facility. This is not a broad-brush rule, rather a team by team mandate.
On a related note, there is serious concern about existing free agents and their inability to work out for teams, participate in mini-camps, and take physicals. The bottom line is there is no fix for veterans still on the market. In fact, teams are currently prohibited from bringing in free agent players to examine them or sign them to a contract.
And when players are finally able to sign contracts? The NFLPA is looking hard at digitally signing them to minimize face-to-face contact.
What will testing and precautions look like?
The NFLPA is looking at risk factors seriously. Just because NFL players are conditioned athletes does not exclude them from being potentially harmed by COVID-19.
As such, the goal is fitting football into the virus, not vice versa. One part of this includes the development of face shields for players to wear as a way to stop the transmission of the virus.
The NFLPA is also involved in a joint task force with the league for both viral and antibody testing. They are expecting a 90% chance of a legitimate saliva test for the virus by the time training camps open.
The plan as of now is to have everyone (players, coaches, staff) be tested once they return to team facilities – even if they were tested a day before they traveled to a team facility. There is an expectation that everyone will be tested every three days.
Roster sizes, contingency plans, and more
There is a thought from many in the NFLPA on expanding camp rosters to 95 players and delaying cut down dates. It’s a double-edged sword, though. While it would be favorable from a football point of view, bringing in more players to a team facility and having 95 players on the field at one time is a greater risk for COVID-19 transmission.
Speaking of COVID-19 transmission – there are no definitive answers as to contingency plans if a state shuts down in the middle of camp or the season. For example, if the state of New Jersey shuts down in the middle of August or September, what will happen to the New York Jets or New York Giants? There is no answer at this point in time.
Final observations from NFLPA conference call
The call took about 45 minutes and covered a variety of topics. Everyone wants answers yesterday but due to the fluid situation, there were few concrete answers. There were no dates offered as to when camps would open or when announcements would be made as to the opening of camps.
Most interesting was the issue on the 2021 salary cap being negatively affected by a loss of revenue this season due to limited or no fans in the seats, or possible cancellation of a few games. While the NFLPA said they would negotiate this issue with the league, it seemed obvious they were preparing agents for a worst-case scenario – the significant chance the salary cap will be lower in 2021.
There is also a major concern about the remaining free agents still on the market- especially the veteran guys. Will they get signed? Can they get a fair shake?
Bottom line – everything is a work in progress and the NFLPA hopes to hammer out more details in the coming weeks.