With the Coronavirus continuing to impact life in the United States and no end of the pandemic in sight — a record 55,220 new infections were reported on Thursday — the NFL is reportedly looking into more ways to help lower the risk of a spread this summer: according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the league’s 32 teams are “likely to bring fewer than the regular 90 players they ordinarily bring to training camp whenever it begins.”
While no clear numbers appear to be set just yet — reported roster sizes range from 75 to 80 players — it seems likely that the league will be trying to reduce the 90-man roster limit somewhat for this year’s training camp to fight Covid-19. Of course, such a decision cannot easily be made by the league alone: the NFL Players Association will also have to give its blessing for a plan like this to be put into practice once camps open later this month.
That scheduled opening date, which would be July 28 for most of the teams including the New England Patriots, could also be in jeopardy considering the recent spike in Coronavirus cases in states such as Florida, Texas and Arizona — home to six of the NFL’s organizations.
A reduction in roster sizes, however, could help camps to start on time. After all, it might help clubs to adhere to the preliminary protocols sent out by the NFL in early June. Those protocols would limit facility access based on tiers and also ask for social distancing measures to be implemented. The Patriots, for example, would have to get creative to fit 90 players in their locker room under rules calling for a distance of six feet between lockers.
The team could use the visitors locker room and the old New England Revolution locker room to create additional space during training camp, but such a solution would be somewhat difficult to be kept up during preseason. Accordingly, a reduction in roster sizes might help combat this problem even though it is not uncontroversial.
“With no offseason program and only two preseason games, how could you possibly evaluate the extra guys?” asked former Patriots linebacker Matt Chatham, who entered the league as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2000, on Twitter on Thursday. “Teams have to get ready to go in an accelerated fashion, only so many reps to go around. This year just sucks for super underdog players, unfortunately.”
Whatever decisions will be made between now and the start of training camp, the league is still actively trying to conduct its business as close to usual as is possible under the current circumstances.
Previously, the league canceled on-field spring workouts while moving both the draft and offseason workouts to a virtual setting. Furthermore, the Hall of Fame Game and supplemental draft have also been canceled, with preseason likely to be shortened from the standard four to two games. And while coaches have been cleared to return to facilities, players have yet to collectively decide when or under which parameters to do the same.