The NFL wants to get its players vaccinated against the Coronavirus, and it is doing everything in its power to achieve that goal. After already announcing some updated guidelines earlier this offseason, a new set of rules was forwarded to the clubs earlier on Thursday — rules that are sending a clear message: get vaccinated or fear the consequences.
Those consequences are not just limited to the dangers of Covid-19, with the league also threatening to penalize teams if they have outbreaks among unvaccinated players. The most prominent among them are forfeits (via NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero):
If a game cannot be rescheduled within the current 18-week schedule and is cancelled due to a Covid outbreak among non-vaccinated players on one of the competing teams, the club with the outbreak will forfeit the contest and will be deemed to have played 16 games for purposes of draft, waiver priority etc. For the purposes of playoff seeding, the forfeiting team will be credited with a loss and the other team will be credited with a win.
The memo also emphasizes that the league does not anticipate to add a 19th week to its regular season and that “there is no right to postpone a game.” If there is an outbreak among unvaccinated players during the 2021 regular season, teams face severe fines not just in the form of forfeits.
The team with such an outbreak also “will be responsible for all additional expenses” if a game gets canceled, and furthermore could also be subject to other penalties imposed by the NFL:
If a game is cancelled because of a Covid outbreak among unvaccinated players/staff, in addition to the financial penalties identified above, the Commissioner retains the authority to impose additional sanctions, particularly if the Covid outbreak is reasonably determined to be the result of a failure by club personnel to follow applicable protocols.
On top of it all, players will also have to carry the burden of potential forfeitures. As the league memo states, nobody will get paid in case a game gets canceled due to Covid-19 outbreaks among unvaccinated players:
If a game is cancelled and cannot be rescheduled within the current 18-week scheduled due to a Covid outbreak, neither team’s players will receive their weekly paragraph 5 salary.
This is obviously a big development. While the league is not specifically mandating its players to get vaccinated, it very much does so. The goal is obvious: to raise the current vaccination levels.
According to a report by NFL Network’s Judy Battista, more than 78 percent of players league-wide have received at least one vaccine shot so far. However, only 14 of 32 clubs have crossed the 85-percent threshold so far.
There have been no reports whether or not the New England Patriots are among those teams. However, their vaccination rate has been classified as “high” by Pro Football Focus’ Doug Kyed.
With training camps on the horizon, there still is work to be done across the league. This new set of rules is providing considerable motivation for teams and their players to get vaccinated, though, because it uses arguably the biggest tool the NFL has at its disposal: competitive advantage.