Of the 65-plus players who ended up deciding to opt out of the 2019 season, something like a dozen or so were defensive linemen, primarily defensive tackles. Another large subsection of the players who opted out were offensive linemen, skewed toward the interior players. Athletes who are asked to play at a higher weight are more likely to be at higher risk of an adverse outcome were they to contract Covid-19.
Some of the most prominent names to opt out of the season came at the defensive tackle position, such as Eddie Goldman of the Chicago Bears, Michael Pierce of the Minnesota Vikings, and Star Lotulelei of the Buffalo Bills.
At one point, there were hints that there were two major defensive players whom reporters believed were considering opting out. When C.J. Mosley of the New York Jets decided to opt out, we learned he was one of them. We also learned that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Cameron Heyward was the other. He talked about his decision to play in 2020, despite being a larger player who also has asthma.
“For me, it was a conversation that I had to have with not only myself, but my wife, my family and my agent”, he said. “I felt comfortable going forward seeing the certain protocols. Obviously, I’m taking care of my body. Outside of the football field, I’m making sure I make the right decision. After those talks and seeing the protocols whether it’s we have these little face shields that we can wear. I just felt comfortable with it. I thought it would be beneficial for me to play. I’m excited. I’m all in. I know I’m a high-risk athlete, but going into this year, I want to make sure I’m 100 percent”.
Players who have moderate to severe asthma were regarded as high-risk players who would qualify for an opt-out stipend of $350,000 that would not have to be repaid. All other players who did not have another type of high risk were considered voluntary opt-outs who would receive a $150,000 stipend that would have to be repaid. It’s unclear if Heyward would have been regarded as high risk by the determination of the CBA addendum.
Either way, the point is that once he and his family decided that he would be playing, he did so with the full conviction of playing at maximum capacity in 2020, with the goal of winning a Super Bowl. As he said, he is ‘all in’, as is the entire Steelers roster, one of just three teams to have nobody choose to opt out, whether medically exempt or otherwise.