NFLPA provides updates on precautions and preparations for the 2020 NFL season

The NFLPA has provided an update on where the league stands in terms of precautions and preparations for the 2020 NFL season.

The NFLPA, which has had an internal task force of scientists investigating the COVID-19 pandemic since early March, has held multiple conference calls over the past month. On their conference call with players on July 24, they announced that they have adopted the proposed amendments to the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement. Details of this call are below.

Of importance – the 2021 season will have a minimum salary cap of $175 million. This could be higher based on a variety of factors. The NFL is giving teams an option to cut down to 80 players by August 14 or go with a split-squad then cut draft picks/UDFA’s earlier than August 14. As of right now, it is at the team’s discretion. The NFLPA deferred to the league and allowed them to do whatever they wanted on this issue.

The last phone call was held on July 21 to give updates to the players regarding the upcoming season. Previous phone calls were last held on July 17 and 15, and June 15. All updates can be found below.

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NFLPA Conference Call from July 24, 2020

NFLPA adopts amendments to 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement

The NFLPA released the following statement: Our NFLPA Board of Representatives voted to adopt, by a count of 29-3, the proposed amendments to the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement to protect our players’ health, safety and financial well-being.

Details of the NFLPA agreement with the NFL

COVID-19 is a football-related injury, which means players receive injury protection from the virus just as long as players do not test positive the first two days/test upon arriving at team facilities next week.

Salaries are protected. Players received an accrued season and they will be eligible for disability if you catch COVID-19 after those initial negative tests.

The league can still contest positive COVID-19 tests if they can prove that a player caught COVID-19 from a specific list of outside football activities, such as going to a bar with more than 100 people in the bar.

If the season is canceled after the cut-down date, players are eligible for a stipend of up to $300,000. If the season is canceled after the cut-down date, players will have their health insurance kept intact.

Details regarding player opt-outs for the 2020 NFL Season

High-risk opt-outs (all based on CDC guidelines except high body mass) will receive $250,000, an accrued season, and a credit to move up to minimum salary.

A player who voluntarily opts-out will receive $150,000 and will play the 2021 season under their 2020 contract. If any player chooses to opt-out and has already received a signing bonus, they do not have to return any monies received.

Co-habitant rule (someone in your house/under your roof is high risk): A player can request to live separately (apartment or hotel) at the team’s expense. This option did not go over all that well with a few players.

Opt-outs are irrevocable. The deadline for opt-outs will be seven days after all the agreed-upon documents are signed by the league and NFL.

Details regarding salary, stipends, and payments for the 2020 NFL Season

There is some concern from players who have not received their signing bonus yet due to the fact that they have not yet taken their physical. The primary concern is regarding the schedule we first reported on Tuesday – players will not take their physicals until four days after reporting for camp, only after they have taken two COVID tests which were negative.

An additional concern is that the deadline for opting-out may come and go while they are waiting to take their physical.  The opt-out deadline is seven days after the League and NFLPA sign the agreement.  The NFLPA has assured players the physicals will be completed before the opt-out deadline.

If the season is canceled anytime after Week One, non-guaranteed money is lost and will not be paid out to the players. Stipends for canceled games in 2020 are not counted against the player’s salary in 2021.

Players in the final year of their contract can opt-out and will play under their 2020 contract during the 2021 season.  The same holds true for players who signed one-year deals during this year’s free agency period.

If a single game is played in 2020 and the season is then canceled, player contracts will not carry over to 2021. Guaranteed paragraph 5 money for any games canceled in 2020 will be rolled over to the 2021 season.

NFLPA has stated that no money from 2020 contracts will be escrowed this year to pay for an increased cap in 2021

The minimum salary cap number in 2021 will be $175 million. This can increase based on a multitude of factors. Any artificial increase in the 2021 salary cap above the agreed revenue structure will be paid back out of future revenues over a four year period.

For example, if revenues from the 2020 season dictate a salary cap of $130 million, and the cap is increased artificially to $175 million, the $45 million will be paid back over a four year period.

Benefits for players for the upcoming season

Benefits outside the salary cap will be reduced by $17 million this season per team. Extra benefits include 401K, deferred comp, etc. Those lost benefits will be paid back in the future. The timing of the payback of those benefits depends on revenues.

Performance-based pay will be one of the benefits players will lose this season. Many of the players are very unhappy about this.

2020 NFL Training Camp Schedule

There will be 14 padded practices rather than the mandated 16.

August 3 through 11 will be conditioning practices and limited to 120 minutes.
August 12 to 16 will consist of practices with no pads.
August 17 to September 6 will include padded practices. There will be a gradual integration with a ramp-up period.

Contingency plans if a state shuts down

While far from being finalized, the NFLPA implied if a state with an NFL franchise shuts down due to COVID, the talk has been about that team moving to another city rather than shutting down. The comparison was made to the Toronto Blue Jays, who were not allowed to play their games in Toronto and are taking up residence in Buffalo.

Rosters // Rookies test positive for COVID-19

The NFLPA announced of the nine clubs that brought in rookies for camp, 12 of them have tested positive for COVID-19.

The practice squad has been increased to 16 players. Players can be moved to and from the practice squad unfettered to replace players who may test positive for COVID-19.

NFLPA Conference Call from July 21, 2020

NFLPA President JC Tretter announces new COVID procedures

There will be no preseason games played in 2020. Instead, a conditioning period is in its place to allow for a greater ramp up time. For the first two weeks and potentially beyond, testing will also occur every day until positivity rates fall below the 5% threshold.

Roster sizes are still up in the air and will be left for the NFL to determine. Right now, it appears that the roster size will be at 80 players to begin training camp. The league and NFLPA are awaiting approval from the owners on this matter and answers should come soon. 

They are in discussions to increase the number of players on the practice squad, more flexibility on the active and inactive list, and making it easier to replace players who are lost due to Covid-19 positive.

League and NFLPA agreeing on concepts for COVID-19 impacted players

A player who tests negative for COVID-19 upon arrival to camp and then tests positive will be considered a football injury. Teams can contest if they have indisputable proof that players caught COVID-19 outside the realm of football. 

The initial COVID-19 testing will not be done in team buildings. Players must have two initial negative tests before they are allowed to enter the building.

Any players who are brought in to fill a roster spot after camp begins will have to have two negative tests. The spread between those tests, whether it be over four days or over a 24 hour period, is still being discussed/finalized.

Currently, the NFLPA has not been informed by the league of any rookies who have taken league-mandated COVID-19 tests registering with a positive test. The league is required to report positive tests to the NFLPA. It was announced that the assumption is none of the rookies who have already taken the test have come up positive.

NFL and NFLPA have concerns with some test’s accuracy

Players and personnel will receive COVID-19 tests that will be administered via internal nasal scrapes, which is essentially a swap of the interior of the nose. It will not be the “nasal scrape” many are familiar with who have been tested in their daily lives. Both sides have stated they are not confident with the accuracy or science of the saliva tests at this point.

NFL clubs are obligated to provide COVID-19 testing for all family members living with a player at the start of camp as well as if a player later tests positive. Teams can continue to provide testing for families if they choose.

NFLPA & league have agreements on opt-outs and reporting days

The two opt-outs include a voluntary opt-out as well as a high-risk opt-out. However, details still need to be worked out. During the round of questions from players, a third opt-out was discussed, which would involve high-risk family members living under the roof of the player. 

The August 1st opt-out deadline date reported in the media was something just floated out by the league and is still being negotiated. The high-risk category will be based on CDC recommendations/guidelines that have already been established.

Players are looking for injury protection for their salary from COVID-19 as there are concerns from the players on being cut after a period of being quarantined. 

The first four days of camp will include testing on day one. Then, there will be a gap of two days to allow for results to be collected. On day four, there will be another round of testing. After two negative tests, players can enter the building for physicals.

Reporting dates include July 23rd for quarterbacks & injured players and July 28th for veterans. Veterans can report earlier but are subject to the four-day initial schedule. Also, teams must authorize any veteran showing up early. The veteran cannot just show up on his own.

The league’s stance is that once a player opts-out, it is irrevocable and they cannot return. The league and NFLPA are talking about delayed opt-outs where a player can opt-out of the season based on a narrow set of rules or extenuating circumstances. An example that was cited was if a player’s family member passes away due to COVID-19 during the season or after the deadline.

Estimates of what the hit can look like towards the salary cap

Based on current evaluations, the estimated loss of revenue for 16 games with no fans is estimated at $65 to $70 million per club. The salary cap is estimated to fall from $199 million to $134 – $129 million if this were to happen. It has been a point of emphasis that neither the league nor the NFLPA wants a drop in the salary cap.

The NFL and NFLPA are still negotiating how to deal with the loss of revenue/salary cap. The NFL still desires to escrow 35% of player salaries from 2020 to pay for artificially increasing the 2021 salary cap. The NFLPA wants to pay the deficit down over the remaining years of the CBA.

Players entering a contract year are worried about their future

If no games are played this season, the assumption from the NFLPA is players will play under their 2020 contracts in 2021. There are discussions taking place regarding what will happen if games are missed in 2020. Will players play under their 2020 contract or 2021 contract next season?

The NFLPA wants a stipend to cover any player who comes into camp and not just for those starting the regular season with a team. We’ve talked about this previously, specifically on the issue of bringing free agents into a team facility for a workout to fill an open roster spot.

During the question and answer portion of the call, a payer asked outright, “With all these questions still unanswered about economic issues, why are we showing up?” The answer was simple – the CBA requires them to show up.

Benefits could be reduced to offset the impact felt by teams

The NFL and NFLPA are also discussing a reduction in the number of extra benefits paid this year.  Benefits include 401K contributions by teams, etc. The benefit amount per team this year is $40 million. The NFL and NFLPA are discussing a reduction of $17 million in 2020, which would be paid back to the players in future years/seasons.

NFLPA Conference Call from July 17, 2020

The Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans will report to camp this coming Monday. According to the CBA, players from these teams must show up. The NFLPA is telling all other teams that they will be reporting on July 28.

At this point, it seems like everything will be on schedule, including the NFL standing firm on two preseason games for all teams. Additionally, camp rosters will stand at 90 players. However, there are still ongoing discussions with the league regarding camp and regular season rosters.

Also, at this time, the NFLPA has categorically rejected the league’s proposal to take 35% of the players’ 2020 salary and put it in escrow. These funds would be used to offset any reduction in the 2021 salary cap due to a loss of revenue this season.

Concerns about opening training camp

However, there is much concern about this as everything has not been finalized in regard to what camp will look like and how the NFL will handle injury designations, roster sizes, and more.

Because of that, the NFLPA will file grievances against the league if camp opens and economic, health protocol, and other issues are not agreed to.

Further, players are very concerned about injuries due to not having mini-camp or OTAs. Players are still looking for a concrete schedule, which incorporates more conditioning days and less padded practices.

Chiefs and Texans report on Monday

When the Texans and Chiefs players return on Monday, their testing schedule will be as follows:

Monday – Swab test for Covid-19
Tuesday – Second swab test for Covid-19 (Players must have two negative tests)
Thursday – Players with two negative tests will undergo physicals.

Why are players required to take tests two days in a row? To limit the possibility of an incorrect negative test. The possibility of back-to-back negative tests being wrong is minuscule. The saliva tests are not ready and the initial COVID tests are being done via nasal swab.

Players are being told that the turnaround time for testing results will be less than 24 hours.

The plan now is to have players show up in small groups (15-20) for COVID testing. Once they are cleared and pass physicals, those same small groups will take part in conditioning drills.

No other details as far as workouts and practices have been provided. On the call, Texans DL JJ Watt specifically asked what is going to be done once camp opens. There were no additional answers other than the testing information for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Unfortunately, the league has not given much detail to the NFLPA regarding this.

Economics/Policy Proposals

According to those on the call, the NFLPA has rejected the league’s initial economic proposal to pay players in the case of COVID-19. The NFLPA sent the proposal back and want more details regarding it.

There is a lot of talk about the players banding together and showing unity. That’s because there is a fear that the league and owners will attempt to force policies and guidelines on players if there is no unity.

In regard to the salary cap, the projection is that the 2021 salary cap will drop about $60 million if fans are not allowed in the stands this season. The loss in revenue without fans in the stands is expected to be about $4 billion.

What happens if a player tests positive for COVID-19?

The failed physical designation due to COVID-19 is still being negotiated. The league and the NFLPA are currently working with states who require 14-day quarantine to get exemptions for sports and players.

For example, players who are Houston residents that play for the Jets or Giants are presently required to quarantine 14 days upon arriving in those states. At this time, the teams cannot demand that those players arrive early.

On a related note, if a player tests positive for COVID-19, any player deemed as being in close contact will have to test negative twice and could be out up to 48 hours. The example of one member on the offensive line catching COVID was brought up.

If that happens, it’s very possible the other members of the offensive line would be considered to have been in close contact and would then be sidelined until they have two negative tests.

The NFLPA states their objective is to minimize risk, not eliminate it. They admit the latter is impossible.

Will the players go on strike?

Some players have talked about the potential of going on strike if their demands are not met or the league is not willing to meet them halfway. The NFLPA is against this strategy as the league could come back with a new agreement/CBA that’s much less advantageous to the players.

Players frustrated with NFLPA and NFL

Players are very frustrated they are not getting hard details from the league and they are hearing nothing new from the NFLPA. One player stated he’s getting his information on social media before he gets it from the NFLPA.

Players are also very frustrated that there have not been any details as to what will happen with their pay if they get sick with COVID-19.

Speaking of pay – the NFLPA is stating if there is no agreement in place and games are missed or canceled, their position is that teams are responsible to pay the players in full. This includes any weekly roster bonuses. All of this is based on the current CBA.

When can players opt-out of the 2020 season?

The NFLPA is telling its players that media reports stating players must opt-out by August 1 if they are uncomfortable playing this season and don’t want to take the risk are absolutely untrue.

The league has given no definitive answers on player opt-outs or classification of opt-outs as well as COVID-19 being labeled as a football-related injury. The NFLPA has been pushing the league on these issues for months. The belief is, “as the league usually does, they will wait until the last minute to answer the issues/questions.”

Players want their voices to be heard

A lot of questions have been centered around how to best classify a player if they test for COVID-19. In our July 15 update below, we detailed what the two sides have been discussing. However, players remain steadfast that COVID-19 must be labeled as a football injury.

That can come to a boil in a training camp. And with so many questions unanswered, there is a group of players who are in favor of pushing back the start of training camp from July 28. League doctors have told the NFLPA they feel the measures they have taken and implemented make it safe for players to arrive on time.

What do players think of the proposed face shield as part of the helmet?

Players have a concern about the proposed face shield. One player stated, “If you are in New Orleans or Florida and are forced to wear the shield during practice, you have a better chance of dying from heatstroke rather than coronavirus.”

NFLPA Conference Call from July 15, 2020

The focus of the call on July 15 was regarding preparations and procedures for the upcoming 2020 NFL season. The NFLPA and league are communicating daily about the different issues that both sides face this season. Despite some chatter about there being hard deadlines, none of that has been given as an ultimatum.

One key moment from the conference call was when NFLPA general counsel Tom DePaso said that there was no clear reason for having preseason games, considering the risk. The NFL would like teams to have at least two preseason games. However, the NFLPA affirmed they are staunch in their position of playing no preseason games this season.

Health and safety protocols for players and staff

For those players and/or staff who will be identified as needing to follow any protocol in place to limit the spread, the following regulations would apply: If you are symptomatic (you must have two negative tests within 24 hours), positive but asymptomatic, positive and have symptoms, or negative, but you have been around someone who tested positive.

The NFL and NFLPA are discussing creating two lists of players – those who have tested positive and those who socialized or were in close proximity to a player who tested positive. But, of course, they will work together to limit any exposure for players. Already, there was chatter about putting players in a bubble during the preseason.

The recommendation was not to put players in a mandatory hotel during the preseason. Rather, players will be expected to travel from home/apartment to the team facility and back to their home/apartment.

However, the league is concerned about player accountability and it is a prominent topic in their discussions with the NFLPA. The NFLPA agrees players must be held accountable for their actions and not partake in any risky behavior which may put their teammates at risk. This is a grey area for both sides.

Other health and safety topics discussed on the NFLPA Conference Call

In regard to testing, saliva tests are still being developed. The two most important aspects of the test include the speed of getting test results and the accuracy of tests.

The NFLPA has seen and been sent the new face shield and spoke about it with players. Players have not given any approval on the face shield and want to try it first in practice and games.

Regarding fans in the stands – local jurisdictions override everything but if fans are allowed at games, the NFLPA is in favor of tarps covering some field-level seats to keep the fans further back from players than usual.

Other pieces of information regarding the health and safety of players and staff include the notion that the NFL intends to adhere to any state shutdown or quarantine. Additionally, there have been no discussions about public appearances by players.

Injuries and Pay

There is concern about injuries and the possibility of them spiking this season due to no offseason training. To help them understand how this can affect players this season, the NFLPA is looking at data from the 2011 lockout. As a result of this research, they are looking for a lot of non-padded practices in the early part of training camp and more practices focusing on conditioning.

If a player tests positive during the season, NFLPA President JC Tretter states the NFLPA is pushing to have those players be listed as a football/work-related injury.

Because of so much uncertainty around this and other factors, the NFLPA is strident on getting players a stipend, in addition to preseason pay, for those who attend camp. There are a variety of reasons for this, including the risk factor as well as a potential shortening of the season.

Roster rules for the upcoming season may have noticeable changes

There are many roster rules that teams need to follow throughout the year, but that might look different this year. And already, some of it has begun.

Currently, remaining unsigned free agent veterans cannot come into facilities for workouts and no date has been set to allow them to visit teams. We could see this trickle over into the regular season as no agreement has been made regarding Tuesday workouts, where teams regularly bring free agents in to work them out.

As it relates to those players who are already on a team, the NFLPA is looking at multiple concepts for increased rosters during the season, including putting more players on the practice squad. Getting players on the active roster without first going through the waiver wire is a priority. There is a commonality with the league on this topic.

But, the NFLPA also believes that reduced roster sizes during the preseason are beneficial. However, no official decision regarding this has been made at this time.

On an unrelated note, but still having to do with rosters – at this time, there has been no talk about moving the 2021 NFL Draft to a later date.

NFLPA wants players to have choices this coming season

NFLPA President JC Tretter addressed the group and stated that the main objective is giving all players options. The main issue will be players opting out of the season due to medical conditions they or their family are dealing with.

This opt-out clause is still being crafted. They are looking at different categories of opt-outs, including players who are high-risk, family members who are high-risk, and voluntary opt-outs, which includes players who will not play simply because of the risk.

In regard to players potentially signing a waiver to play this season, the NFLPA is dead set against it and will not push their players to do so.

The economic effect throughout the NFL

NFLPA leadership stated that few or no fans in the stands means that the revenue from the 2020 season could go from $16.5 billion to $12.5 billion. Of course, the 2021 salary cap may be negatively affected if this happens. Because of this, the NFLPA is engaged with the league and is looking for ways to minimize the impact on next year’s salary cap based on a shortfall of revenue this season.

Ideally, the NFLPA wants to spread out the shortfall of revenue during the 2020 season over the course of the CBA in order to minimize risk to the 2021 salary cap.

NFLPA lays out several key priorities before the 2020 NFL season

The NFLPA has laid out several key priority areas to focus on before the start of the 2020 NFL season. This includes the overall health of players, regulations regarding travel to/from games, and media protocol.

Further, the NFLPA is waiting on an emergency plan focusing on risk mitigation from the league before camps open. They have not received the league’s plan yet but expect to have it within the week. Already, several teams have announced July 21 as the opening of camp. This is based on the rules laid out by the recent CBA. This is subject to change based on negotiations between the league and the NFLPA.

The NFLPA is also currently working with medical experts regarding players who are returning to hot spots around the country, which includes Texas, California, Florida, and others.

NFLPA Conference Call from June 15, 2020

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.

Tony Pauline is Pro Football Network’s Chief Draft Analyst and Insider. Follow him on Twitter @TonyPauline. Follow PFN on Twitter @PFN365

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