This story has been updated to include the report that COVID-19-related fines stem from new league policy.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have continued to take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously following a Super Bowl LV victory and into the 2021 NFL season.
Notably, the team held a vaccine drive following mandatory minicamp at the end of June. Before the event began, head coach Bruce Arians shared that his goal for the squad was to reach an 85 percent vaccination threshold across the program.
Perhaps that drive, as well as each individual's own decision to protect themselves from coronavirus and to cut down on mandatory virus testing, will keep the Buccaneers safe from an outbreak this year. That hasn't prevented Arians from sending another, much stronger message about COVID-19 protocols, however.
Speaking with the Tampa Bay Times, Arians suggested that unvaccinated players who violate league rules - such as not wearing a mask in the team facility - will immediately be fined $14,650, as per league policy for infractions. Arians believes that the Bucs will have surpassed the 85 percent threshold following preseason roster cutdowns, he added, which could indicate unvaccinated players may fall victim to being released.
“A vaccinated player will get tested 14 times this year,” Arians said. “An unvaccinated player will get tested 140.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to all 32 teams on Thursday foreshadowing strict penalties for teams that suffer from forfeiting a game due to unvaccinated personnel causing a COVID-19 outbreak. The NFL intends to complete its 2021 season as scheduled after postponing numerous games last year amid outbreaks.
On Friday, Minnesota offensive line coach Rick Dennison and New England co-offensive line coach Cole Popovich were removed from their posts after reportedly clashing with the COVID-19 vaccine guidelines for coaches. They are believed to be the first two coaches to be out of a job due to vaccine refusal.
COVID-19 vaccines are required for all NFL Tier 1 staff per league protocol, including coaches.
Players across the league, such as Arizona wide receiver Deandre Hopkins and outspoken Buffalo receiver Cole Beasley, have voiced their displeasure with the NFL's vaccination guidelines and protocols. A small handful of Buccaneers players, namely running back Leonard Fournette and Antonio Hamilton, have shared via social media that they do not intend to take the shot.
"Vaccine I can’t do it," Fournette said in a quickly deleted tweet on Thursday.
Hamilton also removed his post from Twitter, which indicated that he would accept a team "get[ting] rid of me for sharing information to the misinformed," referencing an out-of-context quote from Bill Gates about vaccines and population growth at a TED Talk in 2010 as a reason to not get vaccinated.
Stay tuned to AllBucs for further coverage of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offseason updates, and other news and analysis.