With the scheduled start of National Football League training camps now just two weeks away, the league and NFL Players Association are still grappling with a wide range of critical issues related to its 2020 season and Covid-19, including economics, health and safety protocols, and preseason scheduling.
The league and union held a bargaining session by conference call on July 13, with more discussion between the two sides planned for later this week. Time is very much of the essence as players, coaches, and staff will need to make travel arrangements in the next few days if the planned July 28 opening of camps is to be maintained.
According to multiple reports and industry sources, the NFLPA is pressing for several key enhancements to health and safety protocols, including daily testing for the virus instead of the prior league proposal of testing every other day, an elimination of all 2020 preseason games, and additional modifications to training camps to account for the lack of in-person team training this past spring because of the pandemic.
“Good meeting today with management. We were blunt and honest them [that] we will not compromise our players’ health in these discussions,” tweeted Richard Sherman, San Francisco 49ers cornerback.
Sherman’s sentiments follow a blog post released last week by Cleveland Browns center and NFLPA president JC Tretter, who claimed the league “believes that the virus will bend to football,” and said there was unanimous support among player representatives for an elimination of the entire 2020 preseason schedule. NFL team owners are looking to reduce the exhibition game schedule from four games per team to two.
The NFL’s issues surrounding the management of issues related to Covid-19 are now rapidly coming to a head, as the league is one of the few entities in US pro sports not to lose any regular season or postseason competition thus far from the pandemic. The arrival of shutdowns across many parts of American society arrived in March, roughly a month after the completion of Super Bowl LIV.
Absent an agreement on the health and safety protocols, the league retains the ability to impose its own rules. But players would be able to file a grievance under terms of their 10-year collective bargaining agreement agreed to earlier this year and challenge the safety of their workplace.
The NFL and Oakley, meanwhile, have developed a clear plastic face shield that would go behind the face mask of player helmets, and is aimed at preventing the spread of droplets. It is not known, however, whether that shield will go into wide use as players work through concerns surrounding ventilation and potential restriction of their field of vision during play. More testing of the new shield is expected during training camps.
There is also division between players and owners with regard to the league’s adjusted economics because of Covid-19. The league reportedly is seeking a 35 per cent escrowing of players’ salaries this year to help management adjust to the significantly altered fiscal landscape of this season.
While plans are not finalized, there will be limited game attendance at best in individual team markets, pending approval from state and local health authorities, with teams such as the Baltimore Ravens planning for a maximum of less than one fifth of normal stadium capacity.
Already, the league is planning to tarp off lucrative lower rows of stadiums to create additional separation between players and fans that might be able to attend games, as well as generate additional sponsorship revenue to help make up for the loss of gate revenue.
The NFLPA conversely is looking to avoid any escrowing of salaries, and spread revenue losses stemming from this year across salary caps between 2022-30.