2021 isn’t going to look a whole lot different than 2020. Not for the next couple of months, anyway. Barring any sort of drastic improvement of the COVID pandemic, Roger Goodell all but assured the NFL will be virtual following Sunday’s Super Bowl. In his annual “State Of the Union” address, Goodell was asked what teams and fans should expect for the next several months. Goodell took it a step further and said COVID could shape how the NFL operates permanently.
“We anticipate that I think a lot of the things that we did last year with respect to training camps, with respect to the offseason [will be done again],” he told reporters Thursday. “Virtual is going to be part of our life for the long-term. I think we learned, and the coaches learned to players learned, that it was actually a very positive way to install offenses and to work in the offseason.”
The 2020 offseason was conducted almost entirely virtually. The draft was done remotely, there were no OTAs/minicamps, and players didn’t show up in-person until training camps began in late July. The NFL mandated teams stay at their home facility throughout camp, keeping Pittsburgh away from St. Vincent College for the first time in over 50 years. If that remains for the long-term, this could be the death of camp in Latrobe, a crushing blow to fans and the local community and economy.
But Goodell did say the goal is to find a balance between the old and new way.
“But I also believe that our coaches feel strongly, and we’ll talk about this with union, that there’s value in the training camp. There’s value in practices, there’s value in having preseason games, where you can develop young players and give them the opportunity to get better as football players. The veterans may not need that as much. So those are the types of things, I think we’ll bounce around as we come into the off season. And I’m sure we’ll come up with solutions for that.”
Despite having little time to prepare for the season, there was no obvious uptick in injuries of any sort. And rookies adjusted well. Pittsburgh’s a great example of that, getting meaningful contributions from Chase Claypool, Alex Highsmith, and Kevin Dotson.
It’s hard to know exactly what direction the league will go long-term. Much of that will be negotiated out with the union. For the short-term, don’t expect the 2021 draft to occur in person. Nor there to be any rookie minicamps, mandatory minicamps, or OTAs. Those are probably gone for good. And training camp has a good chance to be held at Heinz Field again, perhaps with some level of fan involvement that didn’t occur last year.
Needless to say, like the rest of the world, the NFL won’t look the same in a post-COVID climate.