On the same day the first set of rookies was permitted to report to team facilities for 2020 NFL training camp, the league and the NFL Players Association held a meeting in an effort finalize health and safety protocols, the number of preseason games and other arrangements as they try to start a football season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
On one hand, the NFL and the NFLPA potentially finalizing these protocols quite literally at the last minute seems absurd considering that the coronavirus outbreak reached the United States more than four months ago. But the league and the players have been working with a moving target.
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The NFL at one point had time on its side, and it hoped the status of the virus would evolve to the point where the league could move forward with its 2020 season on time without much interruption. But with COVID-19 cases still on the rise in the United States as of late July, the league and the players battled unforeseen circumstances and scrambled to agree on protocols.
We already knew the start dates for NFL training camps and for the regular season — barring more unforeseen changes, of course. Monday’s meeting was successful in that it gave us answers to questions about health and safety protocols as well as the status for preseason games in 2020.
When does NFL training camp start in 2020?
- Rookies: July 21
- Quarterbacks and injured players: July 23
- Veteran players: July 28
The NFL on July 18 sent a memo to all 32 teams confirming the above reporting dates for 2020 NFL training camps. The start dates for training camp are as originally scheduled, as the collective bargaining agreement allows teams to open camps for veterans no earlier than 15 days before their first scheduled preseason games. (More on those preseason games later.)
The exceptions to the NFL’s standard reporting dates for training camp are the Chiefs and Texans, whose players were allowed to report early because they will play in the 2020 regular-season opener Thursday, Sept. 10, three days before the Sunday slate of Week 1 games.
It’s worth noting that the CBA does give teams the right to set their own reporting dates if they prefer to report later, but a team doing so would risk putting itself at a competitive disadvantage.
COVID-19 protocols for NFL training camp
The exact format and timeline for 2020 NFL training camps, all of which will be held at teams’ facilities rather than off-site locations, remains undetermined. The NFL had a call Monday afternoon to finalize the health and safety measures ahead of training camp but has not yet agreed with the NFLPA on the timeline.
The NFLPA is pushing for a longer-than-normal acclimation period to get their bodies ready for full-contact practices in pads. The NFL-NFLPA joint medical committee suggested a 48-day training camp, including a 21-day acclimation (strength and conditioning) period.
The players want that, but the league initially insisted on playing at least one week of preseason games (again, more on those later), a schedule that would not allow for such a long acclimation period. This is part of the reason a group of high-profile players on July 19 publicly criticized the NFL’s defiance regarding the format for training camp.
As for health and safety protocols at NFL training camps, all 32 teams have submitted infectious disease emergency response (IDER) plans for the season. All 32 plans reportedly have been cleared by NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills, but for a team to have more than 20 people at its facility and therefore open training camp, its IDER plan also needs to be approved by the NFLPA. That process is ongoing.
The players wanted daily COVID-19 testing, and the NFL agreed to implement just that. As the NBA did, the NFL hired BioReference Laboratories to perform the entirety of its COVID-19 testing. The company will set up sites at all 32 team facilities to ensure uniform testing protocols league-wide.
Players will need multiple negative tests before they’re allowed to be in the building for physicals or team activities. That’s a lesson the NFL has taken from other pro leagues: Take it slow. NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills says test results expected within 24 hours.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) July 20, 2020
According to King, the NFL can expect BioReference Labs to turn around COVID-19 test results in roughly 24 hours, which is part of the reason the players insisted on daily tests. There will be lots of player/coach interaction in a 24-hour period.
All teams will have three “COVID Protocol Coordinators” at their facilities to enforce the rules of IDER plans, and face coverings will be required at all times inside buildings.
King recently was granted access at the Vikings’ facility in Eagan, Minn., to provide an example of how NFL teams have prepared for the players’ arrival. Minnesota has installed four COVID-19 testing bays and a single entry point, complete with temperature checks and sanitation, to its facility. The team also has established social distancing protocols in its locker room, cold/hot tubs, showers, training rooms, meeting rooms and cafeteria.
To help protect players on the field, the NFL is pushing for the use of a mouth shield, developed by Oakley, that clips to the facemask. The league reportedly is letting players test the mouth shields before it decides whether to mandate them for 2020.
NFL preseason games
This seems to be the primary reason why so many high-profile NFL players had been publicly critical of the NFL’s approach to the start of the 2020 season. The NFL at the time was pushing for a two-week preseason schedule after cutting it from four, and the players felt the risks associated with two meaningless games weren’t worth the trouble.
In the wake of that pressure, the NFL on Monday reportedly offered a zero-game preseason schedule rather than the one-week proposal it had made a day prior.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 21, 2020
Simply put: The players would rather implement the 48-day training camp schedule the joint medical committee suggested and roll straight into Week 1 of the regular season in early September. The NFL wanted at least one preseason game for the money boost, but the players see it as a non-essential risk to their health. They would rather save the risks for games that matter.