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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Will NFL training camps be ‘normal’ this year? What we know about COVID-19 protocols, rules for unvaccinated players


This summer’s NFL training camps will be unlike any other in the league’s history, according to the league. They’ll be a cross between the tightly restricted version we saw in 2020, as the league began its journey through the COVID-19 pandemic, and the traditional structure we saw in 2019 and earlier seasons, according to league officials.

Fans will be permitted to attend camp, but they must remain at least 20 feet away from the players and are not permitted to solicit autographs. Returning to their off-site locations is possible for teams as long as they can replicate the protocol requirements that were implemented at their primary facilities. In the team cafeteria, players and coaches can eat together, and they can meet in person — but only if they have received their full vaccinations.

The status of players’ vaccinations will be a hot topic throughout the summer, especially after the NFL issued a warning last week that unvaccinated players could be subject to forfeitures and loss of game checks if they cause an outbreak during the regular season. The NFL has made it clear that life for unvaccinated players, coaches, and staff members will be difficult, to say the least. As a result, the immediate futures of at least two assistant coaches — Minnesota Vikings offensive line coach/running game coordinator Rick Dennison and New England Patriots co-offensive line coach Cole Popovich — are in doubt due to vaccine concerns, according to the league.

According to league data, as of Friday, nearly 100 percent of non-player football staff members — known as Tier 1 and Tier 2 — had been vaccinated against the flu. More than 80% of the players on the training camp rosters had received at least one dose of the regimen by the time camp started.

Examine what to expect over the next six weeks, a period that will include the return of joint practises and preseason games after a one-year hiatus.

What’s the schedule this week?

Veterans for 29 of the 32 teams are expected to report on Tuesday, with the first opportunity to practise on the following day. It was necessary for the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers to report last week because they are scheduled to play in the Hall of Fame Game on August 5. The same can be said for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who will kick off the regular season against the Dallas Cowboys on September 9.

Will players jump right into full pads?

No, due to the current collective bargaining agreement, which was signed last year, the first week of camp is restricted. The first day is referred to as “conditioning day.”. Players are required to wear helmets on days 2-3, which are no-contact days. Players can add shells on Days 4-5, while still in the absence of contact, and are off on Day 6 of the game. Beginning on Day 7, full-pad practises with contact will be allowed.

Do players still have to pass multiple COVID-19 tests to get into the team facility?

In fact, players who have received all of their vaccinations are only required to test once every 14 days, and the exact day is at the discretion of their respective teams. Upon arrival at camp each day, unvaccinated players will be required to submit to an oral rapid PCR test, known as Mesa, to confirm their vaccination status. Those players will not be permitted to enter the facility for the first four days, or until the test results have been returned as negative. Mesa tests can be returned in as little as 20 minutes in some instances. Those players will be able to enter the facility and participate in all activities starting on the fifth day, before learning the outcome of the game.

What will happen if there is a positive test?

Again, it depends on vaccination status.

A player who has not been vaccinated and tests positive will be subjected to the same procedures as in 2020. He must isolate himself for at least 10 days, regardless of whether or not he is experiencing symptoms. If he is asymptomatic, he will most likely be able to return after that time. If he has symptoms, he would isolate himself for 10 days plus 24 hours after the last day on which he recorded a fever, assuming he has symptoms.

The return to camp of fully vaccinated asymptomatic players is permitted following the completion of two negative tests that are at least 24 hours apart, even if this occurs before the 10-day isolation period is completed. Despite having been vaccinated against COVID-19, four players and 13 staff members have tested positive for the virus since returning to work, according to sources who spoke to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Every positive test result, whether or not the subject has been vaccinated, will result in contract tracing. Every member of the training team will be required to wear Kinexon tracing devices while at the training centre. Unvaccinated players will also be required to isolate for five days — even if they have tested negative — if it is determined that they have had a “high-risk” exposure to an infected person during the previous week.

All players who test positive will be placed on the COVID-19 list, which will allow teams to replace them on the active roster if they are not eligible to return. Eight players were added to the list over the weekend, including Kadarius Toney, a first-round draught pick from the New York Giants, who was placed on it.


Tim Hasselbeck questions how the NFL will react after DeAndre Hopkins noted his frustration with the league’s vaccine protocols on Twitter.

What qualifies as fully vaccinated?

According to guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control, the NFL considers someone to be fully vaccinated if they have been two weeks since their last shot in their regimen of shots. To reflect the findings of recent research, the NFL has added a second definition, which states that an individual is fully immunised if they are two weeks past their first shot (of Pfizer or Moderna) and have not previously contracted COVID-19.

What other differences will there be for vaccinated and unvaccinated players at camp?

There are a slew of them. The simplest way to think about it is that unvaccinated players will be subjected to the same protocols as those used at 2020 training camps, whereas vaccinated players will be subjected to virtually none. In many instances, it will be as if there are two teams of players on the field. It will allow them to be separated for meetings, team travel, and weight-room training sessions.

Here is a handy side-by-side cheat sheet:

How will teams know who is vaccinated?

Players must notify their teams of their current status in order for it to be recorded in a database, but there is still a difficult practical issue to consider. A wristband, such as that worn by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, or something similar, has been requested by the NFL by each team in order to visually distinguish fully vaccinated players from those who have not been fully vaccinated. Teams will be able to enforce the two sets of protocols more effectively if they can quickly identify them.

That sounds like a pain for teams. Can they just cut the unvaccinated players?

Not only because of their vaccination status, but also because of other factors. According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NFL’s official notice of termination provides teams with five reasons to legally release a player:

  • Poor physical conditioning
  • Failure to disclose a physical or mental condition
  • A deterioration of skill
  • Personal conduct that adversely affects the team
  • An expectation of a smaller contribution than other players who are available

Having said that, teams will almost certainly take a player’s vaccination status into consideration when deciding which players to keep on their roster. Moreover, it will be particularly important when signing free agents or considering trades in the future. Take note of the following tweet from prominent agent David Canter, sent out late last week:

What about fines?

Vaccines aren’t mandatory, so NFL teams can’t fine players for declining.

A carryover of a policy implemented in 2020 allows them to fine players for failing to comply with the COVID-19 protocols that apply to their status, such as failing to submit to testing or not wearing a contact-tracing device, if they do not comply with those protocols. For a first offence, teams can fine players up to $14,650, according to the NCAA. For example, the Washington Football Team fined former quarterback Dwayne Haskins $4,833 in 2020 for a violation involving the team’s hotel in the previous season.

Teams can also be fined if they do not adhere to the rules of the game. In response to their roles in outbreaks that forced changes to the NFL’s game schedule during last season’s campaign, the Tennessee Titans and the Baltimore Ravens were each fined $350,000 and $250,000, respectively.

How are players reacting to all of this?

It appears that four out of every five NFL players have at least begun the vaccination process, whether they are happy about it or not, as evidenced by the statistics. Some players, most notably Buffalo Bills receiver Cole Beasley, have voiced their opposition publicly. Beasley, who has been active on social media over the summer, recently tweeted that the NFL’s COVID-19 rules will not make players safer and are only intended to keep games from being cancelled.

What about the assistant coaches who have lost their jobs?

Coaches and other support personnel are classified in a separate category. They are not members of a union and are not covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Those who are not vaccinated in Tier 1 or Tier 2 can still participate in meetings and on-field activities, but they will be unable to interact with players. They can apply for a religious or medical vaccine exemption on the basis of their beliefs.

After refusing to be vaccinated, Dennison became the first assistant coach ever to be fired from his position, according to ESPN, which reported the storey late last week. The Vikings said in a statement that they were still in discussions with Dennison about the league’s COVID-19 protocols at the time of publication. According to multiple reports, including one from ESPN, Gregg Popovich will not work for the Patriots this season due to vaccine-related issues.


Michael Eaves discusses Rick Dennison being out as Vikings assistant coach after he refused to get the COVID vaccine.

Isn’t there a vaccine threshold that would drop these protocols for everyone on a team?

Not at this time. Many people believe that if and when a team achieves an 85 percent vaccination rate, as has been done in other professional sports, certain requirements will be relaxed. This is a widely held belief. However, as of Friday, the NFL and the NFL Players Association were still in the process of negotiating that possibility. As a result, even unvaccinated players on teams with vaccination rates of 90 percent or higher are subject to the full 2020 protocols for the time being.

So what’s the bottom line here? Will there be a direct correlation between vaccination rates and the success of training camp?

According to my understanding, a successful camp is defined in large part by the maximum participation and health of the players, and the NFL has certainly set it up that way. In addition to lowering the likelihood of contracting an infection that would force him to miss time, full vaccination virtually eliminates the possibility of contracting a severe illness that would impair his performance. Even if he tests positive, the return-to-play protocol for players who have received vaccinations can be much more expedient.

There are also less obvious factors to consider, such as the extent to which teams and position players can meet in person versus participating virtually. Despite the fact that many teams played at a high level last season despite being plagued by COVID-19 infections and restrictions, it is important to note that it is not directly reflected in wins and losses. However, after creating an intentionally unlevel playing field, teams are highly motivated to achieve the highest possible level of vaccine compliance.


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