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NFL offers to eliminate preseason because of COVID-19 concerns

2020-07-25

The NFL has made an offer to the NFL Players Association to play no preseason games this summer, with the hope that making this concession the players were pushing for will green-light the start of training camp next week.

The cancellation of the four preseason games was a major issue the NFLPA pushed for in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic because of safety concerns for players and coaches. The NFL had previously proposed reducing preseason games to two, and then one exhibition game.

According to multiple reports, the NFL owners also proposed daily COVID-19 testing for players and coaches for at least the first two weeks of training camp, following through on another safety issue the NFLPA had lobbied for. According to the latest proposal, testing will change to every other day after the first two weeks if positive test rates fall below the five-percent threshold.

“[The] NFL didn’t “concede” on health and safety issues. We implemented the best protocols together,” George Atallah, the NFL’s assistant executive director of external affairs tweeted Monday night. “Of course our union had to advocate hard for all of these protections because everyone wants to start and — most importantly — a full season. But the fact is we all conceded to a virus that is still rampant in our country. Crassly put, no protections, no games, no [money].

“Bargaining is often like that: it is not linear, players still have to fight hard for seemingly obvious things,” Atallah continued. “And even when they “win” them people will quip “that was easy.” Fact check: it was not easy.”

The proposed cancellation of the preseason would be the first significant interruption to the NFL calendar, which has essentially remained intact throughout the offseason, outside of the cancellation of on-field work during rookie and team minicamps and organized team activities.

The NFL offseason program was conducted remotely using Zoom meetings on a daily basis for the past six weeks, but players generally haven’t been in their team facilities since January, with the exception of injured players who are working with trainers, physicians and physical therapists.

The NFL hasn’t announced any changes to the regular-season schedule, which is set to begin Sept. 10 with the Kansas City Chiefs hosting the Houston Texans.

The Miami Dolphins are slated to open the 2020 regular season on Sept. 13 with a road game against the New England Patriots.

The NFL and NFLPA’s negotiations are ongoing, and resolving health and safety issues were viewed as the easy part of their discussions. The hard part deals with issues related to revenue as the sport figures out how to bear the brunt of the economic hit the pandemic is causing.

Lost revenue from the loss of preseason games, and possibly the elimination of fans in the stands for regular-season games, impacts both the owners and players because they share revenue. The salary cap is annually based on the league’s revenue. The NFLPA is pushing for a flat cap in 2021, which would protect the salary cap from taking a major reduction that could result in major job losses and contract restructurings.

The NFL is proposing that players who test positive for COVID-19 don’t get paid while they are sequestered from the team. The NFLPA is adamantly against that policy, considering there’s a high probability that players would become infected at the team’s facility.

According to league sources, the NFLPA has been pushing for COVID-19 roster exemptions, which would prevent players who tested positive from being placed on injured reserve, and has lobbied for more practice squad spots to address the possible loss of players to COVID-19 during the regular season.

The Dolphins are expected to begin training camp on July 28, but rookies and quarterbacks report on Thursday. Training camp will be closed to the public, complying with local and state regulations.

The Dolphins are holding out hope that a limited number of fans will be able to attend the team’s eight scheduled regular-season home games at Hard Rock Stadium.