COVID-19 Plans Have Players Asking Questions

John McMullen

This might be difficult for the average fan to understand but the biggest hurdle between the NFL and a potential 2020 season isn’t COVID-19, it’s finding a workable plan to play through the virus that both the owners and players will accept.

The theme of the past few weeks has been the league leaking plans - be it the protocols for returning to facilities around the country or a scaled-back preseason - followed by the National Football League Players Association stressing that nothing has been agreed to.

The NFLPA had a wide-ranging conference call Thursday with both team player reps and NFLPA medical director Thom Mayer with the goal of explaining and discussing what the potential league-mandated protocols mean, a league source confirmed to SI.com.

According to ESPN, some of the potential restrictions broached like face masks to prevent the spread of the virus and possible fines for “reckless" off-field activities that might lead to a spread with something as innocuous as an Uber ride or eating out included, were not well-received.

The players were told that the chances of starting and actually finishing a season would depend on the success of both testing and a contact-tracing program and with details given on what’s to be expected.

One of the issues in league circles has been players not taking the virus seriously enough, something amplified by the personal workouts that have been going on throughout the country and often placed on social media, ample evidence of a lack of social-distancing at least at times.

Mayer described COVID-19 as very serious and mentioned the data has shown that African-American males have been more susceptible to the virus. The doctor also noted that it’s possible to get the disease a second time, perhaps in an effort to combat the thought process of some younger people around the country who believe they are bullet-proof once testing positive and recovering.

A high-profile example of the latter is Kayla Becker, who is an on-air personality for WWE and recently tested positive a second time after recovering.

The NFL’s version of the “proximity alarm” might be a wearable contact tracer that would allow teams to identify others with whom an infected player had contact with. After living through the Chip Kelly era and the reaction to sleep monitors and hydration tests, you can imagine how that will be greeted by a sizeable portion of the league’s players.

According to one player rep, the biggest concerns voiced centered on playing with all these restrictions with the thought process being that “if we need to do these things, why are we playing?”

That sentiment quickly rolled into the finances and what would happen to contracts if players opted-out in this environment or the games themselves aren’t played.

Those answers were not provided as negotiations continue, although the potential lost revenue with no fans in the stands may be rolled into multiple seasons to prevent any kind of dramatic dip in the short-term.

All players have been invited to a follow-up Friday call by the NFLPA.

The latest league update came on the heels of Geoff Mosher of InsidetheBirds.com revealing plans the Eagles are making in advance of training camp opening on July 28.

The staff is expected to be back in the area around July 10 in advance of being tested for COVID-19 on July 17. Rookies and selected veterans are tentatively set to arrive on July 21 a week before the reporting date for all veterans.

The player portion of that, of course, is pending NFLPA approval.

As for what training camp will look like, meetings are expected to be held at Lincoln Financial Field and practices at the Novacare Complex, something head coach Doug Pederson eluded to when he spoke with reporters last month. The practices themselves will be heavily restricted to only essential team employees.

On the NFLPA call, the indication was that some very small meetings would be in person but most would continue to be conducted virtually while any pool reporters would be required to go through the same testing as the players.

All media access for player interviews would be virtual as well.

John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Monday and Friday on SIRIUSXM’s Tony Bruno Show with Harry Mayes, and every Tuesday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on SBNation Radio. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

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