By Howard Balzer
Note: This story appeared originally at si.com/nfl/cardinals
The Rolling Stones once sang “Time is on Our Side,” and that’s the approach the NFL has taken during recent months regarding the protocols to be put in place for training camp to begin and the season to be played as scheduled.
However, suddenly time is of the essence with the first group of players scheduled to begin reporting on July 18 assuming the Houston Texans stick with their plan to have rookies report one week prior to the official opening of camp.
The new collective bargaining agreement mandated that full rosters can report 47 days prior to the season opener with rookies permitted to report seven days prior and quarterbacks two days after the rookies.
For 26 teams, the magic date is July 28. For Houston and the Kansas City Chiefs, which begin the season on Thursday night, Sept. 10, it’s July 25 for the full squad. While things of course can change, the Chiefs have indicated they would have rookies and quarterbacks report July 22. For the four teams scheduled to play on Monday Night Football – Denver, the N.Y. Giants, Pittsburgh and Tennessee – reporting day would be July 29.
Most important is the urgency to have a plan that provides teams and players with time to prepare. After the Hall of Fame Game set for Aug. 6 was canceled, as well as the enshrinement ceremony, the league let out word they planned to slash the preseason schedule from four to two games.
However, that was revealed without an agreement from the NFLPA and the players are pushing back. It’s their health and safety that is on the line, along with coaches and numerous support personnel.
Following conference calls between player reps and then many players at the end of last week, numerous reports show just how serious the players are. They are willing to accept a certain level of risk as long as the league takes them seriously.
There will be players testing positive and the leverage they enjoy is the ability to opt out of playing, which also has to be negotiated. Inherent in the plan to play is that the competition will be affected. That will be even more pronounced if numerous high-profile players elect not to play.
What the players are asking makes sense especially given the reality that there has been no organized physical activities for the entire offseason and most players haven’t played a game in six months.
With the clock ticking toward the first full squads scheduled to report in 19 days, what’s known according to wide reporting (and there is likely more we don’t know) that the players are advocating is:
*There would be no preseason games.
*Camp rosters would be cut from 90 to 80.
*Camp would open with three days of medical evaluation and testing for the virus, followed by 21 days of only strength and conditioning, 10 days of practice with no pads and 14 days leading to the first games with a maximum of 10 practices and eight in pads.
*No mandatory hotel stays during camp.
*During the three weeks of strength and conditioning, there would be a maximum of 20 players allowed in the facility at one time.
*The number would be increased to 40 during the non-contact practices.
In a recent letter to all players posted on the NFLPA website, Cleveland Browns center JC Tretter, the union president, wrote, “More so than any other sport, the game of football is the perfect storm for virus transmission. There are protections, both short and long term, that must be agreed upon before we can safely return to work. The NFLPA will be diligent as we demand that the NFL provide us the safest workplace possible.”
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