The NFL informed its clubs on Thursday that additional Covid-19 protocols have been modified to reflect the changing nature of the pandemic. As first reported by Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, the league will no longer conduct any form of surveillance testing of players and staff and has also changed its previously suspended tier system even further.
The league already removed its restrictions related to testing, tracking and wearing face coverings in March. Those latest changes are comparatively minor in nature but still present another step towards normalcy after two years of the Coronavirus impacting day-to-day operations.
Surveillance testing will no longer be done regardless of an individual’s vaccination status. Tests should still occur “when clinically indicated and/or at the direction of the Club Physician” or a player or coach is experiencing symptoms; those need to be reported immediately. The league’s approach to testing and tracking its members as a whole, however, is a more reactive one nowadays.
The tier restrictions, meanwhile, were introduced in 2020 to limit access to certain areas within team facilities or travel parties; those tiers later became dependent on vaccination status. They were already removed back in March as well, but now the league has decided to fully put the responsibility into its clubs’ hands.
Subject to state law, teams can now individually determine whether or not to require Covid-19 vaccination for its staff. That means that unvaccinated coaches, for example, might now no longer be subject to the same obstacles that were put in place in 2021.
One of the coaches impacted by those rules last year was New England Patriots assistant Cole Popovich. The team’s co-offensive line coach left the organization in July due to the NFL’ vaccination guidelines and never returned.
Theoretically and if given the green light by the Patriots, Popovich might now be allowed to come back in his old capacity. However, it seems unlikely that that will happen.
Not only does it appear the coaching staff for the upcoming season is set — Billy Yates and Matt Patricia will work with the unit —, Popovich already found work as O-line coach at Troy University. On top of it all, New England might very well still keep its vaccination requirements in place after all.
The league introduced its first Covid-19 restrictions in March 2020. At that point, individual teams including the Patriots had already started implementing safety measures of their own. Nonetheless, the pandemic forced the NFL to make some drastic changes.
The 2020 draft was held in a virtual setting, while both free agency and draft preparation looking markedly different. Players were also given the option to opt out of either the 2020 or 2021 seasons due to concerns about the virus. Multiple regular season games had to be postponed as well, even though all 554 games over the last two seasons did eventually take place — a significant portion in front of empty stands.
The introduction of vaccines, however, made the situation an easier one. While protocols remained in place last year, the league was not hit as hard by Covid-19 outbreaks. The Patriots, as an example, saw 22 of their players sent to the appropriate reserve list, but they did not experience any wide-scale outbreaks in 2021.
Now, restrictions have either been lifted entirely or loosened significantly.