This week would normally be abuzz with excitement about the start of training camp and the unofficial start of the NFL season. Rookies and quarterbacks were to report to training camp this week with all players reporting on July 28th. Unfortunately, it’s a week full of uncertainty and controversy. There are unresolved issues over player safety and testing for COVID-19, preseason games AND the potential for billions of dollars of losses this year, especially if the league plays in empty stadiums.
Over the weekend NFL players took to social media to put the pressure on the NFL.
Russell Wilson stated “I am concerned. My wife is pregnant. Training camp is about to start..And there’s still No Clear Plan on Player Health & Family Safety. We want to play football but we also want to protect our loved ones. #WeWantToPlay
Tyler Lockett tweeted “I am really nervous about putting myself at risk without any safety measures being set in place. I’ve had a family member (27) contract the virus and they didn’t think they were going to make it. This is serious. If we are going to play in a pandemic the @NFL must keep us safe.”
Duane Brown said “Crazy to hear the @NFL is not following the recommendations of their own experts regarding player health and safety. How does this even make sense?? I want to play football but we need the @NFL to create a safe work environment for us #WeWantToPlay
And according to a post by Richard Sherman, “The NFL has ignored the safety recommendations from the experts that THEY hired. We all love this game and want to go out and compete with our brothers. The NFL needs to provide a safe work environment for us to do that. #WeWantToPlay”
Even Patrick Mahomes chimed in saying, “Getting ready to report this week hoping the @NFL will come to agreement with the safe and right protocols so we can feel protected playing the sport we love #WeWantToPlay”
DeMaurice Smith, the NFLPA executive director was told by team doctors that it is safe to open training camp, but also said coaches have told him the league’s return to play protocols won’t work. The union wants to test every day. The league – every 3 days. The NFL wants 2 preseason games. The union wants none. The union also wants a specific, 45-day training plan for camps to get ready for the season, based on the recommendations of the joint committee of doctors, trainers and strength coaches the NFL and union formed. That has not yet happened. The players’ plan for camp is 21 days for strength and conditioning, 10 days of non-padded practices then 14 days of contact in practices. Again, it doesn’t include time for preseason games.
Another unresolved issue is the estimated $3-5 billion the league will lose in 2020 if stadium are mostly or entirely devoid of fans. The NFL proposed the idea of putting 35% of players’ salaries in an escrow account to help offset revenue losses. That was completely shot down by the union. Instead, the NFLPA is proposing that the salary cap of $198.2 million in 2020 remain the same for 2021. The players propose then spreading the league’s revenue losses from 2020 against the cap annually for the rest of this decade (2022-30) to lessen the impact on the salary cap. However, the league wants to contain financial losses inside the next two years. That would require the NFL cutting each team’s player costs by $40 million in salary cap and/or benefits this year. According to Smith, the salary cap could drop by as much as $70 million next year. That would result in many expensive veteran players cut from teams across the league in 2021.
The league reportedly has given players who want to opt out of the 2020 season until Aug. 1 to do so. Their contracts would toll, meaning they would be on hold and this year would not count for them toward free agency. Don’t be surprised if some of the higher-paid, long-term contracted players exercise that option.