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NFLPA’s big question: Can NFL keep players safe amid coronavirus pandemic?

The Bears tentatively plan to begin training camp July 28 at Halas Hall.
Annie Costabile

The NFL and NFLPA disagree on numerous issues with a little over a week until the scheduled start of training camp. There are major unresolved financial disagreements, but the players’ union is more concerned about how the league plans to keep them safe amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Consider a hypothetical laid out by union president and Browns center J.C. Tretter.

“If the center tests positive on a Friday and there’s a quarantine period for all of his close contacts, well, if I just came from a practice where I’ve been in a huddle with all of my offensive teammates and during individual drills with all my linemen and been blocking the defensive linemen and linebackers all afternoon, aren’t we talking about 35 guys being close contacts with me?” he said. “If they’re all in quarantine the next couple of days, what does Sunday’s game look like?

“One positive test late in the week [could derail] an entire team because all the people who were close contacts need to get through the protocols to make sure they’re not sick and transmitting this virus to everyone around them. You don’t have enough bodies to put on the field.”

The union is adamant that players need to be tested daily, while the league has pushed for fewer tests.

Executive director DeMaurice Smith also continued to rail against playing any preseason games this year, reiterated preemptive concerns about coaches cutting corners on health protocols and warned, along with Tretter, that players likely won’t be in football shape if they report July 28 as planned and will need a “ramp-up” period to prepare for actual practice.

Despite that, Smith said no players have formally opted out of the season.

Once the health-related items are solidified, the league and union must figure out how to process a projected massive revenue loss from playing in empty stadiums and potentially canceling games. If they navigate that by dropping the salary cap by $70 million for 2021, many players would be at risk of being cut. The union prefers to spread the hit over many years.