In light of the Coronavirus pandemic hitting the United States, the NFL decided in late March to close its facilities and move its offseason workout program to a virtual forum. Four months later and with some restrictions already lifted, the first players are now scheduled to return to work: today, the Kansas City Chiefs’ and Houston Texans’ rookies will report to their respective training camps, with other players on the two rosters following over course of the next few days.
Training camp season is upon us, and the NFL reaffirming its reporting dates is further proof of that. The league sent a letter to its teams on Saturday that included the following three key dates for the 30 teams not participating in the regular season opener, including the New England Patriots (via NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero):
- Rookies — July 21
- Quarterbacks and injured players — July 23
- All other players — July 28
For the Patriots, this means that their 25-player rookie class will arrive at Gillette Stadium on Tuesday, with quarterbacks and previously injured players such as David Andrews and Jason McCourty joining them two days later. The rest of New England’s roster will, as already reported last month, arrive on July 28. Upon reporting for camp, all of the players will go through medical checks and will either be placed on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) or hit the practice fields.
As of right now, however, only 20 players would be allowed in the facility at the same time. Before this number could change, the NFL Players Association will still need to sign off on each club’s Infectious Disease Emergency Response plans. All 32 organizations have sent such a plan in for review, with the league’s chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, as well as infectious disease experts jointly appointed by the NFL and the NFLPA already having signed off on them. The union itself, however, also needs to green-light the issue.
Plenty of other questions also remain unanswered at this point in time, despite the NFL releasing a positive-sounding statement on Friday:
NFL clubs met today via videoconference and received an update on preparations for the 2020 season. We will continue to implement the health and safety protocols developed jointly with the NFLPA, and based on the advice of leading medical experts, including review by the CDC. We will address additional issues in a cooperative way. All decisions will be made in an effort to put us in a position to play a full regular season and postseason culminating with the Super Bowl which is the shared goal of the clubs and the players.
Meanwhile, the NFL and the players union are still in negotiations about how to safely return to a new normalcy this summer. The NFLPA therefore just recently proposed a new schedule for training camp that would look like this (via ESPN’s Dan Graziano):
- 21 days of strength and conditioning work
- 10 days of non-padded practices
- 14 days of “contact acclimation” (players could wear pads with practices resembling a normal state)
On top of it all, the players and the clubs still remain at odds when it comes to preseason. The union wants no preseason contests to be played under its proposal, while the league wants to move forward with two exhibition games. With eight days to go until all players have reported to the teams’ facilities, therefore, plenty of open questions remain that still need to be answered — even though it looks as if the NFL and its teams are preparing as if players will be back later this month.
In the meantime, dozens of players took to social media under the hashtag #WeWantToPlay to express their thoughts on the matter — including members of the Patriots: