While COVID-19 and the series of vaccines that have been designed to protect us against it can be a hot-button issue, it is nevertheless one that remains relevant as we turn our attention to the 2021 NFL season. Any Pittsburgh Steelers fan in particular should know how much of an impact the virus could potentially have. They had multiple 2020 games moved as a result of outbreaks, and saw multiple instances of key players unavailable for games due to testing positive or being a high-risk close contact of somebody who had.
How different the 2021 season is may vary from team to team, dependent upon what protocols the NFL and the NFLPA ultimately settle on adopting, and how much participation teams will have not just from their players but their staff with regards to getting the vaccine, because those who are vaccinated and those who are not will be held to different standards.
Peter King wrote yesterday for his Football Morning in America column that the league is “likely to push for a rule” that allows teams with a certain percentage of vaccinated individuals “to be able to return to 2019 protocols”, which essentially means business as usual, after a year that was anything but.
He noted a conversation that he had with one coach, who said that 100 percent of his staff, made up of Tier 1 and Tier 2 individuals, were vaccinated, and that 65 of his 90 players on the roster were as well, which is 72 percent. The percentage of 85 has been bandied about (one must also take into account that this is a 90-man roster, not the 67 players including the practice squad they’ll have in-season).
“Once players realize that being vaccinated will allow them the freedom to move around without masks, to be able to dine out with teammates and to not have to wake up early every morning to be tested, he thinks his team has a very good chance to be at 85 percent”, King wrote, speaking of the coach in question. “This team would need 12 more players of the 25 currently not vaccinated to take the shot — and there’s seven weeks to get that done before training camp begins”.
As we have seen around the country, there have been major efforts made to incentivize people to get vaccinated. From looser restrictions to lotteries and free airlines tickets and four years of college tuition. I’m sure there have been dozens more efforts on smaller scales.
For players, the biggest incentive would be the fact that fully vaccinated players who were high-risk close contacts of a positive case would not have to quarantine, as they had last year. Dozens of players around the league were forced to miss games last season due to quarantining without having ever tested positive.
If indeed the league adopts this approach, it will be interesting to see how many teams are at that 85 percent mark by the time the regular season starts. One would think that players who are on the fringe might be the most eager to get vaccinated, as they don’t want to risk missing their window of opportunity.
Think of Arrion Springs, who started training camp on the Reserve/COVID-19 List and was waived once removed. Availability, as always, is the best ability, and getting vaccinated is one way to help yourself in that regard.