Even as the United States has passed 100,000 confirmed deaths due to the Coronavirus pandemic, there is optimism in the NFL that its teams might be able to return to work and resume offseason preparations sooner rather than later. According to a report by Yahoo! Sports’ Charles Robinson, “head coaches could return to team facilities as early as next week — with players potentially following in full-squad minicamps in mid to late June”.
The report also set a date for when those minicamps, which would be mandatory in nature as is the case during regular offseasons, would take place:
[I]f coaches resume their in-house work next week, minicamps including players could be scheduled as early as June 15 or as late as June 27, depending on COVID-19 data and whether a handful of franchises get a “go ahead” signal from state governments to resume full operations.
Over the past few weeks, the league has slowly started reopening its facilities. The first personnel was allowed to return by May 19 while having to follow both local rules as well as restrictions implemented by the league (no players unless recovering from injury, no members of the coaching staff unless involved in rehabilitation processes, no more than 50 percent of staff). In the meantime, the entire reopening process was closely tied to regulations enforced by the various state governments.
The New England Patriots, for example, were not originally allowed to resume operations even under the NFL’s strict reopening guidelines. While “general office space” falls under Phase 1 of the plan to reopen the commonwealth as presented by the Massachusetts government, “large venues” such as the Patriots’ Gillette Stadium are not allowed to reopen until the fourth and final phase is reached:
Holding minicamp practices such as the ones the league wants to introduce in mid-June would likely fall under a gray area in between. Given the Patriots’ good connections with the current administration in Massachusetts under Gov. Charlie Baker and the fact that there would be no full player-to-player contact anyway according to the NFL-NFLPA collective bargaining agreement, however, it would not be surprising to see the team be allowed to resume work under certain parameters at one point in the June 15-27 range.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft, meanwhile, expressed confidence in the league’s ability to start its season in fall. During an interview on FOX News earlier this week, he pointed out that the league is “preparing to hopefully play football this fall” and that it is working with the NFLPA to “develop protocols that allow us to do it in a safe way — working it out first for our players and our personnel, and then, of course, the fans”.
Resuming full operations league-wide over the course of the next month would be the biggest step taken by the NFL to date on the reopening schedule, and one that would ensure that the 2020 regular season indeed gets kicked off on time.