New NFL COVID-19 Rules Finalized

Alain Poupart

The NFL and NFLPA have finalized the agreement governing the rules that will be in place because of the coronavirus pandemic, and here are some of the highlights:

• The deadline for players to opt out of the 2020 season is Thursday, Aug. 6 at 4 p.m. ET. and the decision is irreversible. Players who opt out will be given a $150,000 stipend, but it's considered a salary advance for 2021. Players who opt out based on an underlying medical condition will receive a stipend of $350,000 that will NOT be treated as a salary advance.

Through Monday, Aug. 3, the Dolphins did not have one player who has opted out. That's quite the contrast from the New England Patriots, including key starters Dont'a Hightower, Marcus Cannon and Patrick Chung, along with one-time Dolphins running back Brandon Bolden.

• All contracts for opt-out players will toll, meaning they will move unchanged to 2021, except for certain bonuses already earned (such as offseason workout bonus or weight target bonus).

  A player can opt out after the deadline on an emergency basis, if for example a close family member dies or has to be hospitalized as a result of COVID-19. 

• Teams will be permitted to have up to 16 players on their practice squad, including six without any NFL experience limit.

• Teams can designated four practice squad players after 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday that cannot be signed by another team until after their upcoming game (not applicable during a bye week).

The Dolphins promoted four different players from the practice squad last season, two of them — wide receiver Isaiah Ford and defensive back Montre Hartage — on two different occasions. The other players promoted from the practice squad were defensive tackle Gerald Willis and cornerback Nik Needham.

Given the uncertainty of player availability throughout the season because of COVID-19, the importance of having a quality practice squad will be heightened in 2020.

Maybe that's why the Dolphins have kept busy picking up young players released by other teams, such as they did Monday when they claimed cornerback Picasso Nelson Jr. from the Indianapolis Colts.

• Teams will be allowed to bring back an unlimited number of players off injured reserve after Sept. 6 (after they sit out a minimum of three games). Once a player has been designated to return to practice, his team will have three weeks to activate him.

Last season teams were allowed to bring back two players from IR after the roster moves to 53, and the two players the Dolphins brought back were tackle Julién Davenport and linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel.

• Teams will be allowed to promote a player from the practice squad until up to 90 minutes prior to kickoff if a player is determined to have to go on the Reserve/COVID-19 list after 4 p.m. the day before the game.

• Not that it has any on-field ramifications, but teams make any comment regarding players on Reserve/COVID-19 other than the player's roster status. Players can discuss their situation if they choose, after which time team officials then can comment.

• Teams can fine players if they engage in COVID-19 high-risk conduct, such as attending an indoor night club or indoor bar (unless the player is wearing PPE and there are no more than 10 people in the establishment), house gatherings of more than 15 people (without the player and all guests wearing masks or PPE or where social distancing for the more than 10 people is impossible), and attending an event that is prohibited by state and/or local regulation, executive order or law implemented due to COVID-19.

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