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18 Training Days and No Pre-Season Games

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NFL: Pro Bowl-NFC Practice Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Background: Jan 25, 2020; Kissimmee, Florida, USA; Arizona Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones (55) during NFC Pro Bowl Practice at ESPN Wide World of Sports. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee

The NFL and the NFLP have agreed on the coronavirus testing program. Each player is going to have to test negative twice before being allowed to participate in team activities. The testing is going to require time and money (for example, extra tests cost $125 each)—-thus much of the first week will be devoted to the testing procedures. Other details of the testing protocols can be found in this USA article:

https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/2020/07/20/nfl-nflpa-covid-coronavirus-testing-protocols-2020-season/5469547002/

The testing agreement was a significant first step.

Once the teams are able to practice on the field, the NFL and the NFLPA have agreed to an 18 day training period—-up 11 days from the originally planned 7 days.

Part of why the 18 days are now in play was the NFL’s decision to eliminate all of the pre-season games.

In my opinion, the NFL’s offer to increase the training days to 18, combined with the offer to eliminate pre-season games is an effort to get the players to agree to reasonable salary reductions, as long as certain financial assurances are in place.

How the salaries are going to be structured (base salary percentages and guaranteed money) is now the last remaining hurdle—-not just for players who have every intention of playing, but for those who are deciding whether to opt out.

By now many of us have thought the NFL would have made a more definitive ruling on roster sizes. Obviously, the bigger the roster is (90 at the moment), the more extensive and expensive the testing is going to be. Plus, more players on the roster creates stronger odds of player infections and possible spreading.

However, with all of the uncertainty of how the testing will go and how many of the players on the current roster will show up—-it’s difficult for teams to prune the numbers until there is greater clarity of what the show-up numbers will look like.

Once the teams get started, it is probably going to be a good two and a half weeks before the players don full pads. The 18 day training period will be an effort to get the players in physical shape and to harden their bodies by weightlifting, hitting the sleds and popping the tackling dummies. Meanwhile there will be some very valuable on the field instruction in all three phases of the game.

When live contact begins one can expect that the vast majority of live hitting will be performed by the rookies and players who are on the roster bubble. This is where the coaches will have to judge what players should comprise the back end of the roster. With no pre-season games in which to test the bubble talent, it will behoove the coaches to create pre-season game assimilations through inter-squad scrimmages. Those live scrimmages should be exciting for all of the players—-for the protected starters who are observing and the young players who are trying to make the team or secure a spot on the practice squad.

The NFL is likely going to have to expand the traditional 53 man roster, probably by 5 to 58. If that is the case, then the practice squad will either remain at 12, as agreed to this year, or reduced back to 10, with the same new rules in place—-where teams can activate practice squad players on game days, but not have to subject them to waivers if they send them back down the following week—-teams can do this twice with each player on the practice squad before they would have to subject them to waivers when sending them down for a third time.

If the roster sizes remain at 53, there is likely to be an avalanche of waiver claims and trades come final cuts. However, some teams might be reluctant to add players from other teams because of the added safety risks vis-a-vis the virus and the onus it puts on the coaches to teach the new players the system. But, the young talent that becomes available could be too promising and enticing to pass up.

The other remaining question is just how much the NFL will expand the rules for players who are placed on injured reserve. The league needs to make room for the players who contract the virus and intend to return to action after their 14 day quarantines and full recoveries.

The financial arrangements, compromises and assurances that are being negotiated between the NFL and the NFLPA need to be agreed to and finalized as early as today or tomorrow in order for the reporting dates to remain in place.