Three weeks before teams are scheduled to report to training camp, the NFL and the NFL Players Association are still in negotiations over how to properly handle the Coronavirus pandemic and its potential impact on the league as a whole. While some parts are already agreed upon or in the final stage of discussion — from hygiene, treatment and travel protocols to testing and game-day procedures — one big talking point remains undecided: preseason.
On Friday, the NFLPA’s board of representatives announced its position on the matter when it voted to recommend canceling the entirety of the 2020 preseason. According to ESPN’s Dan Graziano, the vote came during a conference call on Thursday and its result was full support in favor of scrapping the exhibition schedule: all 32 player representatives voted in favor of the recommendation, a group that also includes the New England Patriots’ Matthew Slater.
“I’m not worried about when we get back to football or how it’s going to go when we get back,” Slater said during a media conference call in late March. “I think there are much more significant issues that we’re facing now that will always trump football. You look at what’s going on not only in our country but around the world, and I think football is far down on the list of things that I’m worried about right now and I’m sure a lot of guys feel that way. Let’s stay healthy, let’s obviously be productive with our time.”
Whether or not the NFL listens to the players’ wishes remains to be seen, however. After all, the league has already made some Covid-19-based concessions when it decided to cancel not just the traditional Hall of Fame Game but shorten preseason from the standard four games to two per team. The decision and reworked schedule have yet to be announced, possibly due to the NFLPA’s opposition to any games before the start of the regular season in September.
The players union, meanwhile, has reportedly discussed a potential new training camp schedule that would lead straight into opening week and account for no preseason games being played (per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero):
3 days: medical/equipment
21 days: strength & conditioning
10 days: unpadded practice
14 days: practice (10 max/8 padded)
Returning to the field — no matter in which capacity and whether or not preseason will contain four or zero games — will remain a topic of debate between the NFL and the NFLPA with the Coronavirus showing no signs of slowing down its spread in the United States. The pandemic therefore could also lead to a labor dispute between the two parties, just four months after they agreed to sign a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.