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The NFL’s lackluster planning is putting risk on players with training camp moving forward

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The plan is still TBD but the NFL will not let that slow anything down. Even if the players are the ones taking all of the risk.

RBC Heritage - Preview Day 3 Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Concerns have been around since at least March that the NFL will need to make some dramatic changes in 2020 if they plan to have the season at all. Now it is July and few things have been decided. Things like the draft and rookie minicamp went virtual. The bigger concern is and always was what will happen as we get close to the start of the season and teams have to bring players, coaches, and staff together.

Back in March, the Falcons were still expecting to head to London to play the Broncos. We reviewed the NFL’s offseason in March, too, and noted the big concern was, and still is, when and if preseason and regular season games will happen if the virus was still spreading in the United States. With new infections and deaths reaching new highs seemingly multiple times per week at the moment, we know the country did not keep the numbers low enough to have the kind of change-free, drama-free season we saw in 2019.

The league has so far planned to cancel two preseason games and many teams are letting fans opt out of their season tickets, with more changes on the table. Yet that’s all that’s seemingly concrete.

So much is still unknown, despite over four months to plan, but we now know the NFL expects to start training camp basically on time. Players will reportedly show up to take multiple COVID tests before they move forward to normal camp.

Not everyone is excited about the current plan, or lack thereof.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports all those major concerns, questions, and issues will be figured out at some point, but not before camp.

We still do not know the safety protocols if a player comes up positive. We still do not know what happens if a player gets sick from playing and suffers long-term physical ailments. We still do not know what precautions will look like in camp, at practice during the season, and in games. We still do not know who is eating the cost of the decreased income for 2020. We still do not even know if fans will be able to attend games at all.

Ultimately, players and fans have no idea if they will be able to safely go to games. So far, the NFL wants players to opt out of the season by Aug. 1, well before they can realistically weigh the costs and dangers of playing in the season and spend time getting comfortable at team facilities. This may be a personal decision, but the players are expected to go to camp before they know what precautions and protections will be in place.

NFL players are taking a substantial risk just to follow current protocol and show up to camp, especially players with pre-existing conditions, living with their parents or extended family, or even just those in a contract year. If we ignore the possibility of infecting others and just limit the impact to each player, we know that the risk of death is small. However, death is far from the only possible adverse outcome from COVID-19.

Even Freddie Freeman thought his symptoms put his life at risk despite his age and health, but there are other health concerns like lung scarring that could potentially end a player’s career. Some patients deal with ongoing symptoms for months, including a season ticket holder we spoke to in June who struggled for months.

Players could risk not only their health but millions in the process. Is a down year due to COVID much different from a down year due to injury? Both may have long-term health concerns that teams will certainly consider when dishing out money early in free agency.

Is the NFL providing healthcare for those who may have symptoms for longer than the season? What happens if the coronavirus cuts a player’s athletic ability and they are forced out of the NFL? Even for players not worried about infecting others and without pre-existing conditions, players could put their careers at risk due entirely to the NFL’s negligence.

By all accounts, though, the NFL has not bothered to figure out those specifics. Instead, they expect players to report in 10 days and declare they will skip the season in two weeks. With months to try to get this thing right and little to show for it, there’s little reason to think this is going to go smoothly.