COVID-19 & the NFL: Hugh Douglas discusses players opting out of the season due to coronavirus

Seth Everett

As training camp is beginning, the agreement between the NFL and NFL Players Association allows for players to decide to opt-out of the season as the risk of playing during the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Former New York Jets defensive lineman Hugh Douglas explained what he believes is the thought process that he would go through to decide whether or not to play or opt-out.

“That's a tough question to answer because there are two Hugh Douglas's that would answer this question,” Douglas said in an exclusive interview with Sports Illustrated's Jets Country. “The first Hugh Douglas is the 22-year old that just got into the NFL, got a little bit of money in his pocket as a single man. He would have played no questions asked, not worried about anything pending because he's invincible.”

Douglas is speaking on the heels of Saturday’s report by ESPN’s Rich Cimini that Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley decided to opt out for the 2020 season. ESPN reported that it was due to family health reasons. Mosley is the highest paid defensive player on the Jets, and was set to make $16 million this season. He already made $10 million in the form of a roster bonus. He was cleared medically in June but missed most of last season with a groin injury.

“Now 26, 27-year old Hugh Douglas that’s married with a family, that’s a different conversation,” Douglas said. “Because now, I have a set of eyes and ears that are beside me that are looking at things totally different – and that’s my wife. She’s going to look at me and weigh all options in this situation and she’s going to let me know that ‘Hey, you’re not as invincible as you think you are and we have a family to take care of. It’s a tough question to answer because it all depends on when the pandemic hit, at what phase in my life.” 

Mosley is the second member of the Jets organization to opt out. Offensive lineman Leo Koloamatangi opted out and chose to remain in Hawaii where he is working on an app to help with contact tracing on the island.

The agreement between the players and the league was very clear about the decision that players have. Players considered high risk to COVID-19 can earn $350,000 and a year of service time if they choose to opt-out of the 2020 season. Players that are deemed without risk can earn $150,000 for opting out with no service time, but also no further penalty.

Currently the Jets have two players voluntarily choose to opt-out. Players had seven days to decide. The deadline for the decision is August 3.   

Douglas was a first-round draft choice in the 1995 NFL Draft. He played three seasons for the Jets before making his mark with the Philadelphia Eagles and later with the Jacksonville Jaguars. After a stint with ESPN, Douglas currently hosts a morning radio show on 92.9 FM “The Game” sports radio in Atlanta.

There have been dozens of players opting out for various reasons. Notable opt-outs include New York Giants offensive tackle Nate Solder, Kansas City Chiefs running back Damien Williams and offensive guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (he’s a doctor on the front lines battling COVID-19 in Canada). Seven members of the New England Patriots have opted out.

Douglas said that even though the challenge of keeping players safe that he likes the protocols set forth by the league.

The regular season is set to begin on time September 10 when the Chiefs host the Houston Texans. The Jets season begins three days later with at the Buffalo Bills.