NFL players have begun reporting for training camp in what will likely become one of the most interesting seasons to date. Talks between the league and the teams have been frequent over the previous weeks with little certainty in terms of what players and coaches can expect going forward. For instance, when given roughly two weeks to decide if they would choose to play or opt-out of the upcoming season, 66 players have chosen to forego the 2020 season due to concerns regarding COVID-19.
The first player to decide to sit out the forthcoming season was Laurent Duvernay-Tardif from the reigning Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs, which could affect the moneyline odds on the reigning champs. This came as somewhat of a shock to the sports world, as he is healthy and coming off of a championship win. However, Duvernay-Tardif is a medical school graduate of McGill University and cited his background in the healthcare industry as the main contributor to his decision. At this moment, RB Damien Williams and OT Lucas Niang are the only other players from the Chiefs who have made their decision to opt-out.
Currently, the New England Patriots have been the most affected by COVID-19 opt-outs as eight players have chosen to sit out including team captain and three-time Super Bowl Champion Dont’a Hightower. Hightower’s decision was perhaps the most shocking to date, as he is one of the top earners and producers for the Patriots and would likely have been looked to this season to fill the leadership void left behind after the departure of Tom Brady. Safety Patrick Chung was another key veteran whose knowledge of the game and experience will be missed greatly by teammates if the 2020 season occurs.
While West Coast teams were largely unaffected by player opt-outs when the deadline was announced, there are now eight players who have decided to opt-out of 2020. The list includes three players from the Las Vegas Raiders and two players from the NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers.
Of course, players have a myriad of reasons for deciding whether or not to play in this upcoming season. However, many more from the East Coast are deciding to forego the upcoming season. It is hard to ignore the rise in coronavirus cases in the East as a possible determinate for players when making the call in 2020. One only needs to look at the recent outbreak with the Miami Marlins in MLB as possible evidence that games and competition occurring in states with rising case numbers are inherently riskier.
66 players do not necessarily represent the majority of players in the NFL and with rosters as big as 80 players for the preseason, there will likely be other players ready to step in. However, it’s important to consider that as much as the decision to sit out this season is a matter of safety for some, it is a matter of finances for others. Due to the nature of NFL contracts these days, many players are only guaranteed money if they play. It’s also worth noting that if a player who is deemed to be “without risk” of COVID-19 decides to opt-out anyway, they stand to lose $200,000 more than their “high risk” counterparts as was determined by the NFL and NFLPA in the new plan for the season.
As players have begun taking COVID-19 tests to be eligible for practices, many are choosing to practice on their own terms and prepare for the 2021 season. No doubt the absence of these players will be felt by their teammates. The question remains; what impact will their absences have on their teams' performance going forward in training camp and eventually, perhaps, into the season?
Piper Westrom is a recent graduate of Saint Mary's College of California and she is currently attending the University of San Francisco in the Sport Management graduate program. She was born and raised in Seattle and loves all of her hometown teams. In her free time, she loves attending concerts and live sporting events.