One of the most critical factors in the NFL’s ability to conduct a full season without interruption involves having a robust emergency response plan in the event that a team suffers a significant Covid-19 outbreak or quarantine situation that sidelines a large number of players at a single time.
According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the league has made a proposal to the NFLPA that strives to reach that end. In addition to a proposal to temporarily expand the practice squad from the current 12 to 16 players—including up to six players with no experience limitations for eligibility—along with removing the limitations on teams’ ability to promote those players.
In other words, the NFL is working on making it easy for a team to promote its entire practice squad to the active roster 90 minutes before kickoff, if necessary. That’s a 16-player cushion that a team could weather, and add another several players when you take into consideration the gameday inactive list.
Of course, the remaining concern regarding this is about positions. Even with an additional six players allowed on the practice squad than in previous years, you’re not exactly significantly deepening your depth chart at every position. If you have half a dozen offensive linemen who have to go into quarantine, you can still be in trouble. And position groups spend more time together than they to intermingling, so it’s more likely for an outbreak to occur within a single position.
These rules, according to Florio, apply specifically to the pandemic. Players may be promoted from the practice squad under these circumstances as a response to another player on the roster having tested positive for Covid-19.
This, of course, relates to another issue that the NFL and the NFLPA are continuing to work on—how to handle players who test positive from a roster perspective. While there is no solution set in stone yet, it is believed that the league will place these players on the Commissioner’s Exempt List.
It has also been discussed that they may loosen the rules for injured reserve, allowing teams to promote players after three weeks if they are in quarantine. But, again, these are just some of the issues that still need to be buttoned up before the start of training camps next week.
The hope is that positive cases will be a virtual non-issue by the time we get to the regular season. Players will begin being tested on July 28, and then they will be tested every day for two weeks, then at least every other day after that leading up to the season.
After that point, it becomes a matter of personal responsibility with everybody involved. Unlike other leagues, they will not be in a ‘bubble’. Everybody will be returning to their own homes, and they will be accountable for limiting their exposure to the virus when they are away from the team. This is the one thing that will not be negotiated upon.