While there are many issues that the NFL and NFLPA must continue to hammer out before the opening of training camp, perhaps the thorniest of all is figuring out what to do with players who may not want to play under the proposed safety protocols in 2020 because of fears of contracting the coronavirus and potentially spreading it to more vulnerable members of their family.
According to NFLPA Vice President Sam Acho, the NFL is currently against allowing players to opt out in the discussions with the league. Mike Florio quotes him as he appeared for an interview on Sirius XM yesterday to talk about the issue:
“The league is very hesitant to have any player opt out. Their position is if the player doesn’t want to go to training camp, well that’s their decision. Obviously, fines could take player and you could lose your starting spot, all those things could take place”. He added, “the NFL as a league is trying to keep that from happening”.
The MLB and the NBA have already had prominent players announced that they would be declining to participate in the 2020 season over concerns about their health or the health of their family. Like the NFL, the MLB had not begun their season, but their 2020 season will be highly truncated, whereas the NFL intends to play a full schedule.
In a league with thousands of players, it seems inevitable that there will be at least some among them who would rather skip the season over fears of contracting the virus. Each roster has 53 players with at least 12 players on the practice squad. 65 players among 32 teams is 2080. It’s implausible to expect that nobody will want to opt out.
Florio does raise some fair points about potential concerns regarding NFL players choosing to opt out, including citing the potential for players who are not happy with their contracts to use this as a possible negotiating tool to get a better deal.
There also has to be a clear procedure for opting out, and what it will entail, including the timeframe during which a player must declare that he is opting out (before training camp? At any point in time?) and whatever compensation might be involved. Whether or not a player requires a specific outstanding reason, such as a vulnerable family member, would also have to be discussed.
While the league appears resistant to the idea of allowing players to opt out, according to Acho, it’s hard to see this stance not changing. The question is what the NFLPA may have to give up in exchange for gaining that right while still retaining some type of standing or compensation.