NFLPA expects virtual offseason, skeptical about vaccine availability

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith anticipates the upcoming offseason closely mirroring the 2020 pandemic-altered approach the NFL adopted in the name of player safety.

Smith said there is a “very high likelihood” minicamps and offseason team activities will remain virtual, although some accommodations for first-year coaches and rookies could be made.

Commissioner Roger Goodell said the NFL learned it could work smarter, not harder, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The NFL and players’ union will begin discussing their approach to the offseason next week, Smith said.

The NFL draft is unlikely to be an in-person, fan-friendly event and the league already punted on the late February scouting combine. Personnel evaluations of incoming pro prospects will instead take place at pro days. Some in-person contact with prospects might be allowed, but more video interviews and workouts with draft-eligible players are expected.

DeMaurice Smith
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Union president JC Tretter, who plays for the Cleveland Browns, said Thursday the players were “sharper, fresher” at the end of the season because of the shift away from in-person meetings and training at team facilities. Earlier this week, Tretter wrote in a memo released by the NFLPA that players should plan to fight the pandemic for at least another season.

“We will likely still feel the effects of the pandemic well into 2021,” Tretter wrote, “and as a result, we can expect to return to the bargaining table with the NFL yet again to re-examine all relevant issues as we look forward to the 2021 football season.”

Uncertain Vaccine Timeline

Smith shared his skepticism about training camp and preseason games in 2021. No preseason games were played in August 2020. Availability of a vaccine could have an impact on players and coaches, but Goodell said safety will drive every decision.

“We’re proponents of the vaccine,” Goodell said. “That’s important for health of our communities. It’s too early to say if vaccines will be part of the solution. We hope much of our society will be vaccinated by the summer. We’ll adapt.”

Roger Goodell
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. (Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports)

Goodell said earlier Thursday that the NFL will not begin considering sold-out stadiums and “normal” Sunday scenes for several weeks, but hinted that “normal” for the league might need to be redefined.

“To think we’re going to be in a vaccine-neutral state by September is probably not the case,” Smith said.

–Field Level Media (@FieldLevelMedia)