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NFL player opt-outs amid pandemic reach 67 for 2020 season

Kansas City Chiefs offensive guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who was the first player to opt out of the 2020 National Football League season amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Sixty-six other players have since joined him in that decision. (Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Sixty-seven National Football League players have chosen to voluntarily opt out of the 2020 season amid the Covid-19 pandemic, meeting the deadline of 4 PM ET on August 6 to file written notification of their decision.

The total, representing about 2.6 per cent of the league’s entire player pool of around 2,600, shows the fragile nature of the league’s efforts to play during the public health crisis, with still-growing virus rates around many parts of the United States, the market-based plan to resume play, and the heavy contact nature of the sport all proving to be influential factors in players’ decisions. The final total is also somewhat higher than what had been initially expected by insiders within the sport.

The NFL players voluntarily opting out will each receive a $150,000 stipend that is treated as an advance against their contracts that are otherwise paused for this year. Those opting out with specific medical reasons will receive a $350,000 stipend that is not a salary advance.

Though the deadline for voluntarily opt outs for any reason has now passed, NFL players can still opt out later on several conditions including the receipt of a new health diagnosis that places them in a high-risk state, or the death or hospitalization of a family member due to Covid-19.

The New England Patriots were by far the team most impacted by the player opt-outs, losing eight players for the upcoming season, including important  contributors such as linebacker Dont’a Hightower, offensive tackle Marcus Cannon, and safety Patrick Chung.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said recently he understood the players’ decisions.

“I think everybody’s got to make their own individual decisions on that,” Belichick said. “They have to weigh their own situation. Each one of us unique and we all have different lives, situations, families, environments, and so forth and so on. There’s no two situations that are the same. Everybody will have to make their own decision on that.”

Twenty-eight other teams had at least one player opt out of playing this season. Just three – the Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Chargers, and Pittsburgh Steelers – had no players opting out for the 2020 campaign.

Nearly half of the entire group of opting-out players, 32, were offensive or defensive linemen, whose positions require an even higher level of contact with other players than other positions in the collision sport, and thus present a higher presumed level of risk to the virus. The group also includes 11 wide receivers, eight linebackers, six cornerbacks, four running backs, three tight ends, and three safeties. The list included no quarterbacks, kickers, or punters.

Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who started for the team during their run to the Super Bowl LIV title last season, was the first player to opt out. He also is a medical school graduate, and he spent time during the offseason working in a long-term care facility.

“Being at the frontline during this offseason has given me a different perspective on this pandemic and the stress it puts on individuals and our healthcare system,” Duvernay-Tardif said in a Twitter statement announcing his decision. “I cannot allow myself to potentially transmit the virus in our communities simply to play the sport that I love. If I am to take risks, I will do it caring for patients.”

The NFL Players Association, meanwhile, said 56 players have tested positive for Covid-19 since July 21, when initial reporting for training camps began. As part of a comprehensive virus-related deal between the league and union, testing is being conducted every day for the first two weeks of training camp. If the positive rate from those rates falls below 5 per cent, testing shifts to every other day.

Separately, the NFL has also created a new non-partisan voter registration initiative, NFL Votes, that will seek to use its various platforms to encourage broader participation in the election process.

“We’re launching NFL votes to inspire everyone in the NFL family – including our fans – to participate in the civic process by getting registered to vote and ultimately exercising their right to vote,” said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.