While most teams’ practice facilities are now open, or eligible to be open, it’s important to remember how limited this opening is in scope. The only players or coaches who are involved in this reopening are players who are going to the facility to rehab a football injury, and if he is involved in that rehab process, the strength and conditioning coach.
Outside of that, as of now, no coaches nor players are permitted to be at the team facilities. They can conduct their usual meetings over Zoom conferences and things like that, but until all 32 teams are eligible to get work in outside of their own homes, nobody will get the okay for that.
Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s head medical advisor, yesterday made it clear that the NFL is not even subjecting such a return to a timeline. “We are not putting dates on the calendar at this point”, he said, via Judy Battista of NFL.com.
That was the response that Sills gave when asked about the possibility of players still having some chance of participating in an on-field offseason in the Spring, in June, prior to the layoff that leads into training camp late in July.
He added that while the league still fully intends to ensure that its upcoming season remains on-schedule, there is also the reality that they will not be unaffected by the Covid-19 pandemic. “We fully expect we will have positive cases that will arise”, he said. There have already been some prominent cases, such as New Orleans head coach Sean Payton and Denver Broncos edge defender Von Miller.
Enabling the league to function through a nationwide viral outbreak will require major planning, coordinating, and infrastructure, but the advantage that they have wielded since the beginning of this pandemic has been that they have time on their side. Time to plan. Time to coordinate. Time to develop. And they are making use of that time.
They have put together a schedule that can be modified, even truncated, if necessary. They are working on potentially even incorporating surgery-grade material into facemasks to help players from spreading and contracting the virus. Of course, everybody would have to be subject to frequent testing.
And that is an absolutely crucial component, with time being a major factor, to ensure that production of testing kits can ramp up to a level sufficient enough to sustain the league for months while not taking away any needed tests from the general population.
“We feel there are certain important steps that need to occur with regard to testing, with regard to test availability, with regard to test reliability, and our continued evolution of understanding about how to manage exposure”, Sills said.
“All of those things continue to evolve, and when we and the players association together feel like we’re at a point of satisfaction with that science, then we’ll be ready to move forward”, he added. “We’re moving as fast as the science and the data takes us”.