The NFL spent 2020 putting in place contingency plans to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks, creating a number of headaches due to rescheduled games, Zoom meetings and players rotating on and off the COVID-19 list. The NFL is over it in 2021.
At least, that was the word from Thursday’s memo about further COVID restrictions. Teams may be held accountable if unvaccinated players and coaches end up creating a preventable outbreak, resulting in teams forfeiting games and losing game checks.
Even before the league decided to impose more restrictions on unvaccinated players and coaches, teams with more vaccinated personnel had a competitive advantage. It is as easy as vaccinated players being less likely to miss valuable practice time or playing time. More problematic is some players took weeks, if not months, to return to pre-COVID form.
A positive COVID test is similar to an injury or suspension. Even in the best case scenario, the team unexpectedly loses that player for weeks.
The rare good news for the Falcons is its players and coaches have gotten their shots. In fact, this is one of the most vaccinated teams in the entire league, per Jeff Schultz of The Athletic.
I guess I should add since who knows what qualifies as news: Falcons’ coaching staff is fully vaccinated. https://t.co/dKRupgOwkL— Jeff Schultz (@JeffSchultzATL) July 23, 2021
Schultz noted this news in response to the Minnesota Vikings firing a coach who refused to be vaccinated. The New England Patriots are rumored to be doing the same. That is certainly not the end of the firings, and we may soon start seeing players cut when teams decide additional restrictions are not worth the headache.
Bravo to Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot for assembling a team of coaches that understand the importance of receiving the vaccine in order to protect both the health of everyone involved but the team’s competitive edge. It is a small but positive early indication from the new brain trust.
Only a few unnamed players remain unvaccinated. Specifically, 7.
7 out of 89 players on the Falcons’ roster have not been vaccinated, a source told @TheAthletic— Jeff Schultz (@JeffSchultzATL) July 23, 2021
This puts the Falcons at about 93% vaccinated, well above the league baseline to prevent additional restrictions. Smith still has a tough task ahead of himself to turn around the Falcons. After all, Julio Jones and Alex Mack left a team that won only four games, and they could not afford to sign anyone of note. Being forced to turn around the team while splitting up practices would be an unnecessary obstacle.
With the latest changes by the NFL, being vaccinated will be nearly as important as being free from injuries. The Falcons still have an open roster spot. When they check in on potential signings, they will certainly be asking if the player is vaccinated (and hopefully if he can rush the passer).
It is an impressive start that Smith already has the organization aligned behind vaccinations. Matt Ryan, with the help of trained medical professionals, has publicly promoted vaccinations, which is certainly a big reason why the Falcons are one of the most protected teams in the league. Despite an offseason of turnover, the Falcons so far appear to have some important things figured out. Now the players and coaches can just focus on football.