The NFL throughout the offseason to date has taken a proactive and forward but cautious approach in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the fact of opposition, even from within the league, they forged ahead with free agency, and then with the draft, and were largely able to pull off both of those major offseason milestones with only a few hitches that, frankly, nobody really cares about.
They have done just about all they can now, however, without actually getting onto the field. They’ve gotten this far, but they’re now at a roadblock. While they are doing ‘virtual’ rookie minicamps right now and things of that nature, things can only go so far.
As I wrote about yesterday, the league wants teams to submit plans by May 15 about how they can go about re-opening their facilities. The NFL also later made it clear after Mike Florio chose to place doubt that, as they have stated all along, no restrictions on any team will be lifted until they can be lifted for every team. That is a message that Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin—a core member of the Competition Committee—wholeheartedly supports.
“I subscribe to the approach of competitive fairness within our game”, he told reporters yesterday about the everybody—or-nobody approach of getting players back to on-field work. “That is everybody gets an opportunity. Our game is extremely competitive. It’s one of the things that make football at this level so attractive to our fans. I’m committed to preserving and protecting that. And so, all teams getting an opportunity to start on the same footing is a core element of that”.
The Steelers are fortunate to be located in a region, in western Pennsylvania, that hasn’t been hit nearly as hard as many other parts of the country, including within the same state to the east, toward the Philadelphia area. Pragmatically, it’s likely they would be able to open their facility sooner, maybe even a lot sooner, than some other teams.
But that wouldn’t be fair, Tomlin’s right. All teams may not be equal, in terms of the quality of their ownership, coaching staff, roster, stability, and things of that nature, but all teams should have the same opportunities. Steelers fans certainly wouldn’t like it if the Baltimore Ravens were able to get a month-long head start.
As mere fans, and probably only a few of us counted among the essential frontline workers, there is but little that we can do to aid in hastening the return of on-field practices and taking a real NFL season one step closer to reality. So we might as well just hope for the best.