For the players who strap-on shoulder pads, cleats, and that all-important helmet every Sunday, embarking in “dangerous activity” is a typical day at the office. From broken bones to torn tendons, the NFL has no shortage of players actively recovering from injury throughout the season and every player knows that they could be the next one to get hurt.
And that’s during a normal year…
Obviously, 2020 is different animal altogether due to the highly-contagious, widespread, and deadly (145,000 and counting) Coronavirus pandemic in the United States.
The NFL, like just virtually everyone else, is trying to figure out the best way to do what it does, but safely. In this case, how do you deliver world-class competitive football while making sure all your players, coaches, and support staff remain reasonably safe from infection.
Over the past several months, while other leagues like the NBA and MLB have worked on (and publicly negotiated) their own revivals, the NFL was thought to have plenty of time to resolve its challenges.
In fact, I heard our own Seattle Seahawks head coach, Pete Carroll, on a coaching podcast with Golden State Warriors head coach, Steve Kerr, discussing this exact point. Carroll implied that the Seahawks and the NFL were going to wait and watch what Kerr’s Warriors and the NBA (as well as the MLB) did first and then try to learn from their successes and failures.
If you’re not first through the door, you’d better watch what happens before it’s your turn.
Recently, the NFL and the NFLPA (Players Association) have been going back and forth, negotiating the exact terms of how to stay safe while conducting the 2020 season. And it will surprise absolutely no one to hear that it hasn’t been going very well, with the two big sticking points being the number of preseason games and the frequency of player testing.
The players wanted to skip the entire preseason (four games) and be tested every day while the league wanted two preseason games and less-frequent testing, such as every other day.
Last weekend, the NFLPA and some NFL players took to Twitter in a coordinated effort to compel the NFL to listen to the guidelines of safety experts about how best to practice and play football during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NFLPA said that players weren’t instructed to tweet, but that they were “involved, to make sure [the tweets]were [on]factual grounds” regarding the ongoing negotiations.
While they may not have been asked to tweet, more than a few of the NFL’s highest-profile players certainly did so.
It’s hard to know what, if any, impact the NFL player tweets may have had on the continuing discussions. But shortly afterwards, new outcomes surfaced that seem to indicate they did.
First, it has been reported that the NFL has agreed to conduct daily Coronavirus testing. With a commitment that the daily testing will last for a minimum of two weeks, and that it can be adjusted afterwards if players and teams wish, per Mark Maske of the Washington Post.
Generally, it’s expected that players will want daily testing to continue throughout the rest of the season, because as former Seahawk, and current San Francisco 49ers cornerback, Richard Sherman said to Peter King:
“…there are false positives and false negatives, if you’re not testing daily, it could be several days before a false result gets cleared up. Think of the problems if there’s not daily testing, and there’s an ambiguity to the test or a mistake, and your quarterback is sidelined for days. Testing daily—at least at the start of the process—is essential.”
Second, after going back and forth about the number of preseason games, the NFL and NFLPA have reached an agreement to have zero.
Obviously, this is a big win for the players, as well as anyone concerned about excessive risk during the pandemic, but it’s not without consequences. For example, undrafted players or players towards the bottom of their team’s rosters tend to rely on the preseason to demonstrate their ability to help the team.
Without those precious games under the bright stadium lights, how many players’ careers will end before they’re given a chance to shine.
Additionally, without the regular number and style of practices, training camps, or preseason games, how will some teams fare in the early weeks of the season?
It’s not hard to imagine that a team with a lot of personnel changes during the offseason, like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (new QB), Dallas Cowboys (new HC), or Miami Dolphins (new everything) will struggle to get off to a hot start as the newest members of the team find their footing.
On that front, our beloved Seahawks should be okay. Despite a few key departures, the main core of the offense, defense, and coaching staff have remained relatively intact. Will that be enough of a factor to produce any kind of positive impact on the scoreboard? It’s too early to say.
But as usual, anyone betting against Russell Wilson finding a way to lead his team to a win, is likely to be disappointed. And in this case, that may even include the likes of COVID-19.