There has never been an offseason quite like this one, and now, the NFL is preparing for the start of training camps and making plans for the 2020 season itself amid the current health situation. Things will undoubtedly look a bit different when teams do open camp, with the NFL recently announcing there would be no joint practices, meaning that teams would have to hold practices at their home facility.
This affects the plans of teams like the Atlanta Falcons, who had discussed joint practices with the Miami Dolphins and the Buffalo Bills before league facilities closed, and restrictions were put in place back in March. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stressed limiting travel, exposure, and contact. However, these measures are expected to be only temporary.
“These steps are being taken for the 2020 preseason to address the current conditions and are not expected to be in place in 2021,” Goodell said.
Pro Football Network Insider Tony Pauline reported in May that training camps were expected to open on time in July, and was among the first to report on the possibility of players not returning to facilities until the start of training camp, which seems to be becoming more plausible by the day.
“Now you’ve got dozens and dozens of players that are working out in the gym, doing their own thing,” Pauline said in the most recent episode of PFN’s NFL Draft Insiders podcast with Andy Herman. “Quarterbacks throwing to receivers. The most recent update that I heard is that July 1st is basically the date to circle on the calendar.”
What is or isn’t said on that date will be a strong indicator of what the start of the season looks like. The first game of the regular season is currently set to be played between the Houston Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium on September 10th.
Could a delay to the season mean we see fans in stadiums?
Any possible delay in the season could serve to ensure teams are able to have fans in the stands, according to Pauline, who sees this as good news regardless of which way the circumstances play out.
“What I was told by a couple of people is if the league announces on July 1st that camps will open on-time, that means they expect the season to open on-time with or without fans in the stadium,” he said. “If they do not make an announcement by July 1st, there is a good chance that the season could be delayed two or three weeks with the hopes that when the season opens, it’ll definitely be with fans in the stadium.”
When players do get started with training camp, there will obviously be protective measures in place.
“I’m told that there’s a chance that when they open training camps, it can be staggered in the sense that you usually have ninety players show up,” he said. “It may be a bit staggered as they bring them in. There’s still a lot to be played out.”
One thing to watch here will be whether or not teams decide to allow fans at training camps as we’ve seen in past years, and what types of protocols will be set to ensure safety if they do.
There has been a lot of hysteria in recent times surrounding sports, specifically with a number of fans concerned that the NFL season may be canceled, or at least pushed back to next year. However, based on Pauline’s comments, there is no reason to worry about a significant gap between the projected start time and whichever date ends up being the actual start time.
“In a worst-case scenario, it may be just slightly later,” he said.
It will be interesting to see how things continue to play out in what’s been a continually evolving situation for the most part since March, but it’s safe to say that there is a lot more optimism surrounding football as we know it to be making a return sooner rather than later.