The NFL has a vested interest in trying to make sure that its players do not choose to forego the 2020 season amid fears of contracting and spreading the coronavirus. While the average athlete would be much less likely to experience severe symptoms, there is a high probability that they could subsequently expose more vulnerable people to the virus, should they contract it through playing.
That’s why the league and the NFLPA are going through extensive talks over the course of July to try to get everybody to the point where they are comfortable being able to produce a safe work environment for everyone involved—which includes coaches, reporters, and all general workers who make up a football organization.
Even with the most well-laid plan, however, it seems inevitable that in a league with over 2000 players, some will still choose not to play. Yesterday, I wrote about how the vice president of the players association, Sam Acho, said the league was very reluctant to allow players to opt out.
The messaging was different from Tom Pelissero on the NFL Network yesterday, who said that “both the union and the league”, to his understanding, “intend to have an opt-out for players who have either a pre-existing condition, family with pre-existing conditions, just general concerns over Covid-19, would not want to play this season”.
He also reported that general managers were recently told that there would be a specific date by which players would have to inform their teams or the league that they have chosen to opt out, but that the specific date has not yet been chosen.
Considering the protocols for a return to play are still being debated, it’s obvious that the date can’t be just around the corner. The league certainly cannot expect players to make decisions without a complete set of information.
A number of players from all across the NFL have experienced serious concerns about playing amid a pandemic, from Malcolm Jenkins to Devin McCourty to Cameron Heyward, though to my knowledge nobody has come out and said that they are leaning toward not playing.
Still, we have seen prominent players in the MLB and the NBA choose to opt out of the 2020 season, and there likely will be NHL players to do the same, so we should expect to see it within the NFL as well as we get closer to a start time and greater clarity over what it would look like.
Part of discussions about opt-out clauses involve compensation. Pelissero reported that the contracts of players who skip the season my toll, and he added that this is something that would need to be agreed to by the start of training camp, which is now fast approaching.