Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Face shields, protocols, and maybe no preseason? What the NFL is considering to protect players from COVID-19

Jul 6, 2020 at 8:42 AM--

The NFL is entering an unpredictable territory. Teams will report to training camp later this month and do so amid a pandemic, which shows little to no sign of ending anytime soon. The league is taking precautions, however. The question is whether or not it will be enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19 throughout the NFL, potentially halting — or possibly ending — the season.

The NFL wants to reduce the preseason schedule by two weeks, eliminating half the exhibition games. The NFL Players Association (NFLPA), however, would prefer that this year's preseason not be played at all. The players union voted last week in favor of not playing any preseason games ahead of the 2020 season.

"It's clear that the union and the league are not on the same page with regard to the length of the preseason right now," Mike Garafolo said on NFL Network.

Added Garafolo: "The players I'm told are expressing a number of concerns on this call. Not the least of which, is if there's so much concern about this virus right now, why are we returning to work, period? And I was told that one of the medical experts said that is something you're going to have to decide on an individual basis."

Then you have the topic of requiring players to utilize face shields during games. Pro Football Talk reported over the weekend that the issue had not been resolved. The NFL wants to use them while players remain undecided. They would be okay with encouraging the use of face masks during training camp and then reevaluating the situation based on the testing and player feedback.

"Regardless, the players don't want a mandate to use the shields," writes Florio. "It's just one of the various issues that need to be resolved before training camps can open."

Roster limitations may be forced upon teams, with as many as 10 to 15 players from each 90-player roster potentially required to sit out meetings and on-field work.

"One source said he believed it's likely that teams will go to camp with 80-man rosters," reported Adam Schefter of ESPN, "and another source said it's 'definitely not 90.' A third league source said he has 'heard lots of discussion about 75 players potentially instead of 90,' especially with the reduction in preseason games and teams not needing as many players for camp as normal."

That's in addition to possibly expanding practice squads to anywhere from 16 to 20 players and potentially requiring rosters to split into two groups with each practicing at different times.

The NFLPA is also pushing to eliminate 11-on-11 activities, not just during training camps, but into the regular season, as well. Also in discussion is the limitation of practices leading to games, which probably won't thrill a lot of coaches.

As for what to do if a player or member of a team's staff tests positive for COVID-19 or is exposed to the virus, the NFL sent a protocol guideline to teams on Friday night, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.

A positive test could result in the player missing at least 10 days from the date of the testing. He would not be allowed back to the team facility until 72 hours after any symptoms have passed, approval from medical personnel, and local regulations and requirements are satisfied.

There will be a reduction of media access to training camps, and possibly beyond, as the NFL is restricting access to mostly-necessary personnel. There will be no in-person player interviews, and pool reports issued from the limited number of reporters allowed access to the team. Players will likely conduct any interviews via Zoom video conference calls, as they have done during the offseason.

We still have no idea whether or not fans will be allowed into NFL stadiums to watch games. For now, the league is moving forward as if fans will be in attendance. That could, however, change quickly, depending on the path COVID-19 paves.

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