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How has the NFC South been impacted by opt-outs?

A global pandemic has rocked the NFL. We take a look at it’s ripple effect in the NFC South

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Hopefully by this juncture, you have mentally prepared for the most unique NFL season that we may ever witness. You can thank a widely spreading virus by the name of COVID-19 for that. In light of the pandemic, which saw leagues postpone or cancel games, the NFL recently put in place an ‘opt-out’ alternative that a number of players have utilized to sit out the entire 2020 season. The opt-out deadline has come and gone, but teams across the NFL will feel the effects of it in the season ahead.

Today, we will take a look at how the opt-out clause along with the reserve/COVID-19 list has altered the landscape for the NFC South. A division that has seen major turnover and a slew of new faces that will make this division race one of the more compelling on the season.

Atlanta Falcons

No Falcons chose to opt out of the season, which is critical at this point due to the amount of new faces entering the locker room this offseason. The opt-out deadline (August 6) has passed so seeing the Falcons reaching this phase is positive, of course, though if things get dire it is possible we could see players opt out during the season.

As far as players placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, the Falcons have seen a number of players find themselves on it (most notably Tyeler Davison, Jaylinn Hawkins, Foye Oluokun, Keith Smith), but as it stands, only one player currently resides on the list, reserve safety Jamal Carter. The Falcons have found a way so far to avoid having the virus critically affect the team.

I’m going to knock on wood now.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers are starting a new chapter in their franchise history with a rookie head coach in Matt Rhule, so this is a very uncommon way for Rhule to kickstart his tenure. With a very young roster, Rhule and the Panthers have only two players (LBs Jordan Mack, Christian Miller) that have chosen to opt-out. Mack is an un-drafted free agent out of Virginia while Miller is entering his second season after being a 2019 second round pick for Carolina, so his loss will be felt.

Impressively, the Panthers have yet to place a single player on the reserve/COVID-19 list. At one point recently, the Panthers were one of eight teams to not place a player on the list. This was reported after the team had both their rookies and veterans report to camp and have a few days recorded of COVID-19 testing.

New Orleans Saints

The Saints were one of the first teams to truly be impacted by COVID-19 with their head coach, Sean Payton, testing positive for COVID-19 back in mid-March. Since then, a couple of tight ends that are tucked deep within their roster (Jason Vander Laan, Cole Wick) decided to opt-out for the 2020 season.

Besides that, their most notable name to be placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list was long snapper Zach Wood. Once Wood was activated from the list earlier this week, the activation left no Saints player on the list with everyone participating in training camp.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

There is a lot of talk surrounding the Buccaneers this offseason and rightfully so. It’s not often a team has a new starting quarterback that is a multi-time Super Bowl winner and considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Their current roster has been held intact as training camp has progressed.

Only one player, offensive tackle Brad Seaton, has decided to sit out the upcoming season due to the virus. The only notable player to be placed on the reserve list was their 2020 third round running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Vaughn was removed earlier this week and currently, the team has no players on the reserve roster.

Overall, then, the NFC South is one of the least impacted divisions in football by COVID-19 thus far. We’ll hope that carries over int othe season.