Things are going to be wildly different for Devin and Jason McCourty when they step back onto a football field in 2020 (And, no, we’re not talking about the departure of Tom Brady). The current COVID-19 pandemic has flipped the world on its head, and the NFL hasn’t gone unscathed. Offseason workouts and minicamps were canceled in the traditional sense and moved virtually. Earlier this offseason, even the NFL Draft was conducted remotely.
While the league is holding firm in its optimism that it will start the regular season on time, we’re fresh off a week where there was a noticeable uptick in players being diagnosed with COVID-19. Last week, it was reported that a number of Cowboys and Texans players were diagnosed with the coronavirus along with a member of the 49ers, who was working out with teammates in Nashville. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers also announced in a statement on Saturday that there have been individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 at their training facility.
“I think everybody’s nervous because the norm is that we just go to work — we put in a lot of work, we bond together, we lift, we’re in close quarters and it feels like that’s all being taken away from us, so I don’t know how to react. I don’t know what’s it’s going to be,” Devin McCourty said on the “Double Coverage” podcast on Sunday. “I love how a lot of players’ attention has been on what’s going on outside of football, and I think we’ll continue to do that. But figuring out football, to me, seems to be the hardest thing right now. We hope, but I don’t know if we’ll figure it out, honestly.”
Because of this increase in positive cases across the league, NFLPA medical director Dr. Thom Mayer released a statement urging players to not take part in group workouts.
“It’s kind of scary when you think about the future,” said Jason McCourty. “If it’s hard for 10 guys just to get together to do little passing drills or anything of that nature, to think about somewhere between 53 to 90 guys in a training camp, it’s going to be insane. So I don’t know how that’s going to turn out.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also told CNN last week that he isn’t 100% sure that football games will be able to be played without the implementation of a “bubble,” which is what the NBA is constructing in Flordia at Walt Disney World.
Still, the league is still holding out hope that they’ll be able to pull the season off on-time, albeit with a number of procedures in place to help prevent infections. The NFL and NFLPA already released a joint statement highlighting strict protocols that teams must follow once they get together for training camp. That includes rearranged locker rooms that comply with social distancing guidelines, redesigned on-field workouts and things of that nature.
The NFL has also discussed the possibility of a shorted preseason to help teams better ramp up for the regular season along with the further expansion of practice squads up to as many as 16 players to help cushion the potential blow of possible infections on the 53-man roster.
As for the regular season itself, the NFL has also built in some contingencies in the event that the pandemic does derail the regular season.