The NFL Players Association wants players tested daily for coronavirus, one of the outstanding points in discussions with the National Football League about health and safety protocols as the start of training camp draws near.
"We believe daily testing is important, especially given some of these hot spots," NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said Friday, referring to states with increasing numbers of coronavirus cases. "We don't right now plan on changing that position."
The league and the union already finalized protocols regarding team travel, media and treatment response, and they updated the facilities protocol to specifically address training camp based on recommendations from a joint committee of doctors, trainers and strength coaches formed by the league and players' union. The committee recommended testing every other day.
NFLPA president J.C. Tretter, a center for the Cleveland Browns, called an "emergency" meeting Thursday night with head team doctors from clubs in hot spot cities to discuss whether it's safe to start camp.
"They gave their medical opinion it was safe to open training camp, and that's where we are," Smith said.
The NFL has informed teams their training camps will open on time.
Troy Vincent, the league's executive vice president of football personnel, sent a memo to general managers and head coaches Saturday informing them rookies can report by Tuesday, quarterbacks and injured players by Thursday and all other players can arrive by July 28. Rookies for the Houston Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs, the reigning Super Bowl champions are set to report Monday because those teams play the NFL Kickoff matchup on Thursday, Sept. 10 — three days before the rest of the league opens the 2020 season.
If the league and union fail to reach an agreement, the NFL can implement its proposed rules, according to the collective bargaining agreement. The NFLPA could file a grievance to argue the league isn't providing a safe work environment under rules of the CBA.
"The league is management," Smith said. "They have the exclusive right, just like somebody who owns a plant, regarding when it opens and when it closes. They want training camps to open on time. The role of the union is to hold them accountable about whether it's safe to open now. ... We are all trying to get to the right decision more so than getting to the fast decision."
Union leadership expressed several concerns in a 90-minute conference call with reporters Friday.
An acclimation period for players is another main sticking point. The union wants 45 days per the joint committee's recommendation. The breakdown would be 21 days strength and conditioning, 10 days of unpadded practices, then 14 days of contact to get ready for games. Also, the union doesn't want to play any preseason games while the NFL had planned to cut the exhibition schedule from four games to two.
"To engage in two games where players would be flying all over the country and then engaging with each other to work, and to do that prior to the season, doesn't increase the likelihood of starting and finishing the season on time," Smith said.
Not all players agree on not playing preseason games.
"I think we should play those two games," Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Jalen Mills told The Associated Press. "We need to know how everything is going to work on game day. Of course, preseason, we don't know about fans right now, but as far as protocol is going to work, as far as whether they're testing us before games or testing us prior and up to the games, testing us on game day — walking in a stadium, how's that going to be? How's the traveling going to be different staying in a hotel? I think we need to know that. ... Everybody is not playing the first game at home. Everybody's not doing that. So you've got guys who are going to travel week one. And I feel honestly, me, I will want to know how the protocol is going to be so I will be able to not only physically prepare myself, but also mentally, knowing exactly what the NFL is going to do as far as this whole COVID thing and the protocols as far entering the games."
The league previously requested that players report to camp earlier than July 28 to give them more acclimation time for strength and conditioning because they held no formal workouts or team minicamps during the offfseason, but the union declined.
The NFL held a videoconference call with team owners Friday to discuss preparations for the season.
"We will continue to implement the health and safety protocols developed jointly with the NFLPA, and based on the advice of leading medical experts, including review by the CDC," the league said in a released statement. "We will address additional issues in a cooperative way. All decisions will be made in an effort to put us in position to play a full regular season and postseason culminating with the Super Bowl which is the shared goal of the clubs and the players."
Another unanswered question is how many positive tests for coronavirus would force a team to shut down.
"If a center tests positive on a Friday and there's a quarantine period for all of his close contacts, aren't we talking about 35 players in close contact with me, so how does that affect a game?" Tretter said. "Maybe the schedule of how the week looks needs to be different to monitor the type of close contacts you have and avoiding the situations where one positive test on a wrong day late in the week derails an entire team."
Some teams began sending their Infectious Disease Emergency Response to the NFLPA on Thursday night. The union is reviewing those plans to make sure they're in compliance with protocols already negotiated.
"This isn't a normal year, so we've always done it this way is not going to work this year," Tretter said. "The idea that this is just going to go away with the snap of a finger and you don't have to change, it's wrong. ... Everything needs to be revamped and refitted to fit coronavirus, because the expectation that you're going to be able to fit coronavirus into football is not the right expectation."
Of course, the league and the union are also discussing economics because there's a projected loss of revenue due to the likelihood teams will be playing games without fans. The union prefers to spread out the financial hit over several years, while the league has proposed doing it over two seasons. Smith said the NFL's suggestion would cause the salary cap to drop by as much as $70 million per team in 2021.
"If we had a preference, we would never want the players of next year to unfairly bear the brunt of a massive decrease in revenue in football," Smith said. "They are taking the most risk by coming back to work at this point."
Questions also remain on players' rights to opt out of playing. Smith said no player has informed the union of intent to opt out as of now.