NFL fans and pundits can debate the league's new COVID-19 regulations all they want. At the end of the day, though, a heated discussion won't get them anywhere.
The new rules are here to stay. In the end, that's all that matters.
It's not the job of each coaching staff or franchise to set the rules. The league does that. It's up to new head coach Arthur Smith to make sure the Falcons are following them.
Looking at the COVID-19 vaccinate within that prism, the Falcons are doing a very good job. Actually, some of the best work in the league.
According to Jeff Schultz of The Athletic, 82 Falcons players and the entire coaching staff has been vaccinated.
That means 92% of Falcons players have been vaccinated, putting the franchise significantly above the magic 85%. Under the new COVID-19 protocols, teams that have more than 85% of their rosters vaccinated will be permitted more freedom in facilities.
The USA Today reported Thursday that 14 NFL teams have rosters with at least 85% of their players vaccinated.
But this goes beyond just having more freedom in team facilities. Because the Falcons have such a high vaccination rate, they are not likely to face unnecessary off-the-field controversy due to COVID-19 or the need to forfeit a game.
Minnesota Vikings offensive line coach and running game coordinator Rick Dennison reportedly refused the COVID vaccination. The Vikings fired him Friday, just about 24 hours after the NFL released a memo detailing the latest COVID procedures.
Dennison is just the first coach to go because of the new regulations. He won't be the last.
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Under the new rules, the league made it clear that it will not be setting up a contingency plan should every game not be played within the scheduled 18-week season. Last year, the league had a Week 18 ready in case, but rather than a Week 19 backup plan (it would be Week 19 since there are now 17 regular season games) in 2021, teams that cause games to be moved because of COVID-19 outbreaks will be forced to forfeit.
Furthermore, that team will be responsible for covering the revenue lost from that missed game, and none of the players involved on either team in a forfeited game will receive their weekly game checks.
If an outbreak occurs among vaccinated players, there will be some leniency but that will not extend to unvaccinated individuals.
From the NFL memo:
"If a club cannot play due to a Covid spike in vaccinated individuals, we will attempt to minimize the competitive and economic burden on both participating teams."
Fans can argue these new rules are unfair all they want. They can even scream about it. But it will be like yelling into the void.
Coming off a four-win season, the Falcons have enough issues to fix. Smith spending time thinking about whether he needs to replace a coach just before the season is not the best use of his time. Nor is wondering whether it's worth keeping a player on the roster who is putting the Falcons at risk of a forfeit should he contract coronavirus and spread it in the locker room.
The Falcons aren't quite 100% free from that scenario yet, but they're close.
If players and coaches don't think the vaccination makes sense for their health, the NFL made it clear -- the vaccination makes sense to avoid unnecessary drama for themselves and their teams. And to keep their jobs.
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