PHILADELPHIA - Unable to force its players to get vaccinated, the NFL has teamed up with the NFLPA to do the next best thing by strongly incentivizing the end game.
Vaccinated players will be returning to the pre-pandemic normal for the 2021 season and the unvaccinated will remain under the strict protocols of the 2020 season.
Unvaccinated players must continue to be tested daily, wear masks and practice social distancing. They also will not be allowed to eat meals with teammates and will be banned from the use of team sauna or steam room.
Other restrictions include a ban on participating in media or marketing activities while traveling and the inability to leave the team hotel or interact with others outside the team's traveling party.
The vaccinated players will not have any of those restrictions, according to a memo sent to teams on Wednesday and obtained by multiple media outlets.
Several players around the league have either expressed concerns about getting the vaccine or declined to get into their personal medical histories.
“I haven’t been vaccinated yet,” new Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold said recently. “Still gotta think about all those certain things that go into it. Again, it’s everyone’s choice, whether they wanna get vaccinated or not. So, that’s really all I got on it. I don’t wanna go too into detail.”
Montez Sweat, the rising 24-year-old star of the Washington Football Team, went even further.
"I'm not a fan of it," Sweat said. "I probably won't get vaccinated until I get more facts and that stuff. I'm not a fan of it at all. ... I haven't caught COVID yet so I don't see me treating COVID until I actually get COVID."
Vaccinated media members, meanwhile, will have access to the press box, field, and sidelines when applicable, as well as access to the locker room and postgame interview room. Media members who eschew the vaccine will continue to exist in a virtual world, presumably.
According to NFL Media, half of the league's 32 teams have 51 or more players vaccinated, while the other half have 50 or fewer players vaccinated. Offseason rosters are at 90 players.
Coaching staffs and team personnel are much closer to full vaccination rates with 30 of the 32 teams having Tier 1 and 2 personnel at vaccination rates of 95 percent or higher. The two lagging behind are still above 90% as well.
Super Bowl-winning coach Bruce Arians of Tampa Bay, a cancer survivor, boiled it down for his players.
"If you want to go back to normal, get vaccinated,” said Arians.
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.