DENVER -- With NFL training camp six weeks away, it is becoming increasing unlikely that players, with a few exceptions, will return to facilities before mid-to-late July.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell issued a memo to teams Monday outlining the safety protocols required in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, among them facility and equipment cleaning. It follows in line with the phased restart that led to the reopening of facilities to employees and coaches over the last two weeks.
Some of the more salient points of the reopening, which includes identifying organizational members in three tier groups and allowing for varying levels of access to the players:
--Reconfigured locker rooms so players can remain six feet apart. The Broncos are perhaps better equipped than others to accommodate this because of the extra locker rooms available in the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse.
--Players' equipment -- helmets, shoulder pads, etc. -- must be disinfected after each game and masks will be required unless they prevent or interfere with "athletic activities."
--Meetings conducted virtually when possible. Clubs must make an effort to hold in-person meetings outdoors with social distancing and masks worn.
--No sharing of water stations or towels. Players must use their own towel and water bottle.
--Lifting/conditioning work will be limited to groups of 15 with staggered appointments to allow for all players to be accommodated.
Forty-eight hours before players are scheduled to report to the facility, they will be tested, with nasal swabs and antibody tests available, per sources. In the event of a positive test for COVID-19, the person must be isolated in a designated area with specific communication made available to league such as their timeline and those who they came in contact with at the facility. Following guidelines of local health officials, the club must conduct contract tracing, if available.
As of now, players I have spoken to do not expect to return to facility before training camp, though some could on a limited basis, like rookies and veterans joining a new team. There has also been discussion of all players convening in mid-July for an acclimation period before training camp because of the absence of optional team activities on the field this offseason.
Developed in coordination with a host of health experts, among them Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer, the protocols are intended to allow for a safe and phased reopening. Several players have admitted they have health concerns, including Broncos defensive lineman Shelby Harris.
“I just want to be safe. I want everyone to be safe. You want to start and not have to stop again. You want everything to be done the right way. I feel like the players’ safety should be No. 1,” Harris said recently. “I get it. Everybody is bored at home. There is nothing to watch. No sports on TV. But the players’ lives are important. And we need to make sure we are taking care of the players who are putting that product out there for the fans.”