CHICAGO – Whether or not there will be an NFL regular season remains to be seen.
The news Monday that an outbreak among the Miami Marlins with at least 13 players testing positive while on the road in Philadelphia has called into question the efficacy of the Major League Baseball season after just four days, but more on that later.
The Chicago Bears confirmed Monday morning most of what we’ve been reporting in recent days is now official, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell published an open letter to NFL fans telling us, “In a year that has been extraordinarily difficult for our country and the world, we hope the energy of this moment will provide some much-needed optimism.”
Clearly that will be an ancillary benefit as Goodell’s and the 32 team owners’ first and biggest motivations are all about money but let’s give them credit where it’s due.
Beginning the new league and free agency as scheduled and then conducting the draft on time did provide a much needed and enjoyed respite from the day-to-day grind of our public health crisis.
Goodell also went out of his way to claim everything the league is doing surrounds the health and well being of its players, coaches and staffs.
“Every step of the way, our focus has been on the safety of players, coaches, personnel, fans and our communities," he said. "Our planning has followed the lead of medical experts and public health officials, including the CDC, the White House Task Force, governors and state health officials. As we have developed our 2020 playbook for the return of football, safety continues to be our first priority; that commitment will remain paramount as players return to the field.”
To that end, training camps as we know them not only won’t really begin Tuesday, they won’t actually kick into gear for weeks.
While players will report Tuesday, none will be allowed to enter team facilities until they test negative for the virus at least three times over the first four days.
All players that do can then enter team facilities on days five and six exclusively for physicals and equipment fittings, and the next eight days will then be limited to strength and conditioning and limited walk-throughs.
Groups of no more than 15 players can be on the field for no more than 60 minutes and in the weight room for no more than 60 minutes.
There will then be a four-day ramp up period with the first actual, full speed but non-contact drills conducted on days three and four.
The first football drills won’t occur until August 14, the players will all be off on the 15th and then can work again on the 16th.
The first practice in pads won’t come until August 17 and it will be limited to 90 minutes.
There will only be 14 padded practices in training camp and no more than three in a row before a required day off.
All of this is admirable but it does beg the question, are the owners and players more worried about football injuries or the virus?
Yes there will be significant testing and isolation and contact tracing for players that test positive, but none of it will be indicative of what happens when they actually start playing football three or four weeks into camp – as we’ve reported there will be no exhibition games - and just a few weeks before the season is supposed to start.
Dulling the excitement of camps officially opening for the Bears is the news that at the position the Bears are clearly the thinnest at, running back, undrafted rookie free agent Artavis Pierce has already become the first Bear placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list – HIPAA restrictions will prevent teams from announcing whether a player has tested positive or is being isolated for exposure.
As much as we all want this to work, after seeing what’s going on in baseball right now, played at much greater distance with little or no contact, it’s awfully hard to believe the NFL can pull this off.
The question is not whether or not players, coaches and staff will get sick, some will.
What no one is announcing yet is how many will be too many and where is the line in the sand?