Vaccination Concerns Abound as Bills Hit Field for OTAs

Coach Sean McDermott worried the Bills won't hit 85% threshold required for possible relaxed NFL protocols.
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Coach Sean McDermott has to be careful with his words in the wake of Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane's controversial comments earlier this month that he would consider cutting a player who wasn't vaccinated for COVID-19 over someone who was.

Beane learned quickly from the league as well as the NFL Players Association that he's not allowed to do that. Which means he's also not allowed to say it.

So when McDermott spoke to reporters Tuesday at the start of Organized Team Activities in which attendance was encouraging but less than perfect, he expressed concern that not enough players would be vaccinated for the team to be able to take advantage of the 85% threshold being considered for relaxed protocols by the league.

But he stopped well short of making vaccinations a requirement, even though the relaxed standards expected to be implemented when teams hit 85% will help immensely with the team's ability to gather and train and do pretty much anything else.

McDermott essentially is limited to an approach that gently steers players toward getting their shot(s) rather than creating an atmosphere in which they feel it is required, especially for the players who are competing for roster spots.

"If anyone needs a reason or more info about whether or not to get vaccinated," McDermott said, "[tight end] Tommy [Sweeney] missed all of last season."

Quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Cole Beasley, among others, have expressed reservations about getting the vaccine, but McDermott was wise to say that "it's not healthy for me to get into who is and who isn't."

The issue definitely is the most most sensitive and most important for this team at this time, and McDermott talked with his team about it. What was said will remain private.

What McDermott did choose to say was what side he was on, which is the side of vaccination.

"All great relationships start with a healthy amount of respect," he said, "and ... I know it's been talked about throughout the NFL and in sports overall. And you know us. We track things and trends and everything, and [vice president of communications] Derek [Boyko] does a great job of sending me some things that go on with the other professional sports out there.

"... I'm not going to mix [recent positive COVID tests that have affected other teams] with the personal-life part of it. But it does impact our situation here ... and it's something that we're going to have to deal with at some point."

McDermott was especially appreciative that most of the team showed up for the voluntary portion of the offseason. The Bills will wrap up their offseason program with mandatory minicamp June 15-17.

As for now, so far, so good.

"You can tell the guys have worked," the coach said. "They are what I would consider in fairly decent shape at this point. Not good enough. But we've got time between now and the season, and the great part about the guys that are here is that we get a chance to see where they're at, they get a chance to see where their teammates are at."

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.