To my knowledge, no NFL players have said definitively that they’re going to sit out the 2020 season just yet. At least a handful have indicated they’ll consider it if the NFL doesn’t do a good job taking care of players, and that number now includes Todd Gurley.
The Falcons’ big free agent acquisition on offense this offseason, Gurley is expected to step in and be the lead back for a team looking to take a big step forward after consecutive 7-9 seasons. As he told CBS Sports Radio hosts Brandon Tierney and Tiki Barber, though, he may not suit up for Atlanta at all this year if the NFL doesn’t come up with and execute on more compelling, thorough plans for the season ahead.
Todd Gurley "prepared to not play" if NFL, NFLPA can't come up with a good plan for playing in a pandemic https://t.co/6i07JZj0Ph— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) July 24, 2020
Here’s Gurley on the show:
“It’s really not structured right,” Gurley said on Tiki and Tierney. “There’s not a proper plan in place that I’m comfortable with. I don’t have a wife. I don’t have any kids. But you have to look at guys on the other side who have pregnant wives, kids and a wife that they go home to every single day. I just feel like in general we just need to come up with something a lot better than what they’re giving us. Everything they gave us is pretty last minute. We should have been able to have answers weeks ago, if not months ago.”
We’ve wondered aloud more than once about the seemingly months-long lag between the NFL knowing that COVID-19 was going to be an issue that impacted the 2020 season—remember, MLB and the NBA postponed their seasons indefinitely and have been working feverishly to re-start things, something they’ve just now managed—and the unveiling of plans for a season that’s hurtling toward us with increasing speed. The NFL and NFLPA just agreed to testing protocols for training camp this past week, even though training camp is slated to kick off next Tuesday, and players have indicated again and again that they’re not satisfied with the level of planning that’s gone into this. The NFL, meanwhile, seems fixated on slashing 2020-2022 cap space to offset the losses they’re going to get, which is at the very least bad optics given that huge revenue years do not typically lead to massive corresponding increases in cap space.
The lack of transparency from the league, the mounting concerns from players, and the perception that owners are fixated on money rather than player safety have combined to create a familiar environment of mistrust between the league office, team executives, and the players and coaches who have to do the actual work involved with playing an NFL season. Gurley’s looking at all that and his relative youth and concluding that sitting out the year might not be the worst thing for him unless the league can show really concrete, thoughtful plans for keeping players healthy and safe all year.
“You have to be prepared to not play or be prepared to have a half a season,” Gurley said. “If they don’t do things right, we won’t have a full season. It’s just how things have been going so far this year. Hopefully everything goes well, but I don’t see how. It just doesn’t sit well right now.”
It goes without saying that if the season moves ahead and the Falcons don’t have Gurley, it’s a potentially huge problem. We’re Ito Smith enthusiasts here at The Falcoholic, but he is coming off concussions and injuries that cost him much of the 2019 season. Brian Hill has done alright in limited looks but has not been a featured guy, and Qadree Ollison is still a promising bruiser but hasn’t done much to this point. That set of backs would virtually ensure the Falcons had a so-so running game again in 2020, and that certainly hurt them plenty in 2019.
Fans are likely to be split on these comments. In one camp—the camp I belong to—there’s likely to be appreciation for Gurley putting his foot down, however lightly, and making the point that the NFL can’t expect players to commit to playing if there’s a good chance they’ll get sick, spread COVID-19 to others, and see the season shut down partway through regardless. Without really good testing protocols in place and smart quarantine strategies, the close contact that’s part and parcel of NFL football probably guarantees that. On the other hand, fans who are stuck on dwindling unemployment, who have been considered essential workers and have been working this entire time while exposed to the virus, and those who are working from home and simply can’t fathom how players making millions would be uncomfortable with a certain level of risk are likely to boo this man.
The fact is that workers of all stripes should be able to demand their workplaces prioritize their safety, but NFL players wield a level of public influence and power that most of us simply do not. A strong display from the players that forces the NFL to actually make substantive improvements to a plan they’ve had months to think out and deploy does nothing but benefit any employees who can use it as a blueprint at their own workplaces, though I recognize it’s naive to think that most employers will feel pressured to respond in the way the league probably will have to in order to keep things humming.
While the current situation seems untenable, there’s still a bit over a month to go and players seem willing to report to training camp, at least as far as we’ve heard thus far. With the players coming to the table with some manner of cap-related concessions down the line and the owners and league office laying out a thorough roadmap to a 16 game season that keeps players as healthy and safe as humanly possible, there’s still a real chance this thing can get done and players like Gurley will feel secure enough to play. The bulk of the changes and concessions will have to come from the league for that to happen, however.
Regardless of what’s ahead, brace yourself to hear this from more players, and brace yourself for the real possibility that Todd Gurley won’t suit up for the Falcons at all in 2020 if a season does move forward.