Bills Are All-In On Offseason Program ... Except For COVID-19 Vaccinations

The players have to know that not talking about the issue won't make it go away.
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The last two weeks in Western New York have been more like Woodstock than Orchard Park.

It's been a love-in with near-perfect attendance at OTAs in a year when not everybody is all-in on voluntary work and some teams, like the Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts, have canceled mandatory minicamp and aren't holding traditional OTAs.

But the Bills have carried on in a spirit of unity with only the Super Bowl on their minds. That has to be encouraging to all members of the Bills Mafia ... except for the players' refusal to confront this dang COVID-19 vaccination issue.

Could that eventually derail the process?

Possibly.

Here's why: The NFL has announced plans to relax restrictions on teams that reach the 85% vaccination threshold, and on Friday NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported that coaches who don't get the vaccine may lose their Tier-1 status, which means they won’t be able to coach on the field or in meeting rooms and can’t have face-to-face meeting with the players.

Meanwhile, there's no evidence that the Bills' players are all-in on the example coach Sean McDermott, general manager Brandon Beane and owners Kim and Terry Pegula have set by getting vaccinated as the nation attempts to emerge from a coronavirus pandemic that still exists.

What they have been together on is a plan not to talk about an issue that won't disappear by the start of mandatory minicamp on June 15 or even by the opening of training camp more than a month later.

Safety Jordan Poyer started his press conference this week by stating that he would not be answering questions about the vaccine. Quarterback Josh Allen is unsure about what he will do and also wouldn't talk further on it.

Wide receiver Cole Beasley has stated on Twitter that he has not been vaccinated, resulting in a spat with some critics last month.

Safety Micah Hyde also refused to speculate on what the future might hold for the team and restrictions that could continue to be imposed.

"In early June, we're not going to speculate on if it might hold us back, it might be a disadvantage, that type of stuff," Hyde said. "What we've been talking about in the locker room is open dialogue. Whatever your opinion is in all those situations, it's on you.

"We're not going to sit here and tell guys to do this or do that. They've got their own families. These are all grown men in this locker room, so as far as that question goes, that will kind of sort itself out once guys decide to do what they want to do." 

Will there be a resolution?

All we know is that McDermott has to tread lightly and that Beane has been criticized by the players union for admitting he would consider cutting an unvaccinated player if it meant the difference between a normal operation and one that operated under restrictions similar to those in 2020.

Beane, who also was informed by the league that players cannot be cut strictly because of vaccination status, cited the difficulties in holding simple team meetings before he was ostensibly muzzled.

"These meetings were not as productive as before," he said on One Bills Live, "because you guys saw in the fieldhouse, we had three and four meetings going on. And sometimes you’re talking over each other, but it was the only way to pull it off and be socially distanced. It would be an advantage to cut a player and fall under that umbrella."

Although nobody knows how this is going to turn out, one thing is for sure: The Bills' players aren't the only ones in the NFL wrestling with vaccinations. It's an issue that affects every team and will have to be dealt with more definitively before training camps begin.

There has to be clarity. As of now, that doesn't exist.

Nick Fierro is the publisher of Bills Central. Check out the latest Bills news at www.si.com/nfl/bills and follow Fierro on Twitter at @NickFierro.