Jul 20, 2020 - Sports

The NFL no longer has the luxury of time

A football alarm.
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

When the pandemic arrived and upended the world, the NFL was the only major American sports league with the luxury of time.

The big picture: The clock has now run out and on the eve of training camp, it's still remarkably unclear what the preseason and regular season will look like, particularly in regards to health and safety.

Driving the news: In a coordinated Twitter blitz on Sunday, NFL stars used the hashtag #WeWantToPlay to express their concern — publicly — about the lack of detailed health and safety protocols as rookies begin arriving at camp.

  • Russell Wilson: "I am concerned. My wife is pregnant. NFL training camp is about to start. And there's still no clear plan on player health & family safety. We want to play football but we also want to protect our loved ones."
  • J.J. Watt tweeted a list of what players do and don't know. "We still do not know if there will be daily testing," he wrote. "We still do not know if there will be preseason games ... We still do not know how a positive COVID test will be handled in regards to others in close contact."

The state of play: The NFL sent a league-wide memo on Saturday confirming that rookies will report to camp on Monday and Tuesday. QBs and injured players report Thursday, while all other players are scheduled to arrive next Tuesday, July 28.

  • The NFLPA wants daily testing, no preseason games and a 45-day "ramp-up" period (21 days of strength and conditioning, 10 days of non-padded practices and 14 days of "contact acclimation").
  • The NFL still wants two preseason games and hasn't agreed to the "ramp-up" period. Under the collective bargaining agreement, the league has the right to impose report dates and teams can fine players if they don't show up.

What's next: The #WeWantToPlay blitz sets the stage for the NFLPA to file a grievance over unsafe working conditions if the union hasn't signed off on protocols by the time players show up at camp.

  • What happens with rookies this week will determine next steps, but the union is prepared to file, a source told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, and that will buy players time to try to finalize terms before veterans arrive next week.

The bottom line: One could blame the NFL and NFLPA for remaining so far apart despite a four-month head start. One could also blame America's botched coronavirus response, which rendered that head start virtually worthless.

Go deeper