Now that the NFL and NFLPA have finally inked a revised collective bargaining agreement in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, pro football at last looks like a go - at least for now. But even with these financial and health and safety protocols in place, there will likely be a lot of complications in practice. Let's take a closer look at the agreement and what some of it means.
Players officially have until 4 p.m. ET on Thursday to choose whether to opt out. The league and the union previously agreed to give players seven days to decide once the amended CBA was signed. This possibility of a much-shorter window followed a report from Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio that indicated teams were concerned about bad-faith opt-outs, both from players who might get cut and from those who might use the threat of an opt-out as leverage to get themselves a new contract.
This brought a stern rebuke from Patriots safety Devin McCourty, who characterized any effort from the NFL to shorten the opt-out period as "an absolute joke." The league's commitment to player safety has long been unironically performative, as has management's ability to exploit the CBA's fine print as much as possible. That it would now attempt to make a power play out of players' risk calculation during a pandemic was perfectly on-brand. But in the end, the players again flexed their collective muscle to wring out a few additional concessions:
The league's crafted a discipline schedule that includes fines for high-risk activities:
In addition, team personnel can be fined $50,000 (after an initial warning) for refusing to be tested for the virus and refusing to wear a mask, other personal protective equipment, or tracking devices used to enforce social distancing. Failure to adhere to social distancing requirements when traveling also has a progressive fine structure of up to $14,650.
NFL.com reported that coaches and team medical personnel are also subject to the same fines as players for these transgressions. But what about enforcement? The 42-page training camp protocols the league and the NFLPA agreed to in early July stated that "unannounced inspections" will be done to ensure compliance.
But get a load of this story from Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports, who talked to 11 anonymous team employees from different franchises to get an idea of what's going on behind the scenes. You may be stunned to learn that some coaches aren't being diligent with protocols.
As one team employee told Robinson: "I could have probably reported (my head coach) 10 times by now for doing things he's not supposed to be doing."
Another said a head coach "was hugging all the players when they first got in (to the facility). He's close to people pretty much all the time. He's definitely the biggest rulebreaker."
And another: "The coaches, it's always going to be looser with the rules. We have some coaches who don't even believe this is a real thing, so you know those guys aren't going to be following everything."
Great work, everyone.
Yeah, I don't know what good any of that will do, either.
Allen Sills, the league's chief medical officer, previously ruled out the possibility of a bubble concept for NFL teams, at least as of last week. But as Major League Baseball continues to struggle with outbreaks that have upended its schedule, and now that Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson tested positive (though it's unclear how Pederson contracted it), Sills has since stressed that the league's going to remain open to all sorts of scenarios.
"We expect our protocols to change," Sills told NFL Network on Monday. "They're gonna grow and they're gonna adapt as we do learn new things throughout the course of the season, and flexible and adaptable are kind of our bylines. That's something we're gonna have to be throughout all of this. So, I think all options remain on the table.
"Again, we need to see how the data comes in from the other leagues, as well as our own league, and then we'll make the best decisions along the way that create the safest possible environment for players, coaches, and staff. There's no perfect system, even the bubbles have some vulnerabilities and at the end of the day … We can't make the risk zero, but we certainly want to make it as low as we possibly can, and we'll continue to evaluate everything we do along the course of the season."
The regular season remains scheduled to begin five weeks from Thursday.
Dom Cosentino is a senior features writer at theScore.