The NFL still plans to hold training camps on time beginning in late July, though contingency plans are in place.
Hours after the league canceled the annual Hall of Fame game that kicks off the preseason schedule, the league's 32 team owners were updated on a variety of issues Thursday, many dealing with working through the coronavirus pandemic. Most notably, according to NFL general counsel Jeff Pash, the owners were told about plans to fully reopen team facilities for training camp next month.
"The clubs have been advised that training camps are expected to open on the normal schedule," Pash said. "The dates set forth in the collective bargaining agreement, for most clubs that would be July 28. Obviously they can bring in rookies and certain other players before that.
"The preseason number of games, we're in active discussions with the players association on those issues and will continue at that and expect to have some resolution relatively soon and will advise the clubs at that time."
Earlier Thursday, the league and the Pro Football Hall of Fame canceled the opening preseason game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers that was set for Aug. 6. The hall's induction ceremonies set for Aug. 8 for the 2020 class and for mid-September for a special centennial class, have been moved to August 2021, when the Cowboys and Steelers will again be scheduled to play.
Enshrinements for all 20 men scheduled for this year now will occur on Aug. 7, 2021, with the 2021 inductees going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame the next day. The Hall of Fame game is Aug. 5.
The Hall of Fame, which opened in 1963, has never had two enshrinements in one weekend. It has had cancellations of the game, including in 2011 because of the league's lockout of the players and in 2016 when the field at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium was declared unplayable because of poor conditions.
"This is the right decision for several reasons, first and foremost the health and welfare of our Gold Jackets, incoming centennial class of 2020 members, hall personnel and event volunteers," said David Baker, the hall's CEO. "We also must consider the most appropriate way to fulfill the first tenet of our mission: To honor the heroes of the game. This decision meets that duty."
Team facilities were closed in late March due to the pandemic, though they have been reopened to limited personnel. No players other than those rehabilitating injuries are allowed at those facilities yet.
Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL's chief medical officer, stressed that what the general public should be doing during the pandemic is exactly what the league and its players should be doing.
"We remain in very active discussion with the players' association on the protocols dealing with testing and screening and treatment, response and travel," Sills said. "And so we updated the ownership about where we stand with those issues and our approach to that.
"We certainly emphasized through that that testing alone is not going to be sufficient to keep everyone healthy. It's still vitally important that everyone respect physical distancing, the use of masks when possible and overall good health habits of reporting symptoms and limiting contact with individuals that may be sick not only at the team facility, but away from the team facility."
In response to new Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and other NFL players holding private workouts even after Thom Mayer, the union's medical officer, advised against it, Sills said:
"This is, again, a place where the NFLPA and the NFL are in the same exact place, which is we want whatever makes it the safest possible environment for all of our constituents. ... Again, this is all about risk reduction and trying to mitigate risk. We know that we can't eliminate risk. And so we will work very much hand in hand with the players' association because, again, this is where everyone in that team environment is going to share the same risk. But they'll also share the same responsibility to each other."
Sills also noted the league and union are looking into the use of personal protective equipment by players. That includes modifications to the helmet that may provide additional risk reduction.
"Obviously we have to think about any potential unintended consequences of that modification. So a lot of work is still being done on that," he said.
Barring the unlikely prospect of having full stadiums, every stadium will have seat coverings during the season in an effort to protect people in the stadium, a measure owners approved Thursday.
"They will provide clear separation between the players and the fans," said Renie Anderson, the NFL's chief revenue officer.
"Clearly, obviously, it will provide a unified look on broadcasts as well. ... There's no requirement for the clubs to integrate advertising. It's somewhat of an added benefit if there is an opportunity there. There's also an added opportunity to thank our front-line workers and to create brand messaging for the clubs as well."
If limited attendance is allowed by local governments, tickets would be distributed to long-term season ticket holders and personal seat license holders. Contingencies exist for moving games from where they cannot be played safely.
"But the focus would be on playing in home stadiums, even if initially that is without fans in some stadiums," said Peter O'Reilly, the league's executive vice president of club business and events.
Also, the NFL is kicking off a voting education and registration initiative. Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league is developing programs and working with the players association, Players Coalition and other organizations such as RISE and the US Vote Foundation. The programs will focus on education, registration and activation.
The goal is for NFL players, coaches, executives and staff to register to vote, inspire others to vote and vote themselves. The NFL also will support players who have plans or programs to achieve the same in their communities. Goodell said in recent conversations with players, voting was a subject they consistently stressed as important to them.
Panthers coach joining protests?
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule said he's considering kneeling alongside his players during the national anthem this season in support of the movement against racial injustice.
"I would consider anything as we move forward," Rhule said Thursday on a Zoom conference call. "I'm supportive of the cause. I'm supportive of the movement. I'm supportive of social justice. I think for every person, coach or player, that will be a very personal decision. I think it has to be made at the right time and the right reason for everybody."
The first-year coach hired from Baylor University previously has told his players he will support them for expressing their views about social injustice.
"I will support my players with whatever they do, and then when the time comes I will really think deeply about what is the best thing for me and what is the best way I can show my support," Rhule said.
In 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. Defensive back Eric Reid, who kneeled alongside him, later played for the Panthers. Both players reached settlements with the NFL after filing grievances alleging owners colluded to keep Kaepernick out of the league.
Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien previously has said he will take a knee alongside his players during the national anthem.
Rhule, who like O'Brien is white, said he will confer with his players before making any decision about whether to kneel.
"I think a lot of this has come from the players," Rhule said, "so I will wait to see what direction they are leaning and then I will make my decision."
Titans add to front office
NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Titans have lured Adolpho Birch away from the league office to join their front office and hired two other new executives.
The Titans announced Thursday that Birch is their new senior vice president for business affairs and chief legal officer. Birch spent the past 24 years with the NFL, with his most recent role as senior vice president for labor policy and league affairs.
They also hired Surf Melendez for a new position as creative director, and Dan Werly is their new general counsel. Melendez has worked for the Miami Dolphins and Adidas. Werly had been general counsel for Nashville Soccer Club, an MLS expansion franchise in its first season, the past year.
Birch had been involved with labor negotiations, managing the NFL's drug testing program, government relations, sports betting and the league's critical response team. His late father was the first Black person on the Tennessee Supreme Court, and Birch earned his law degree at Vanderbilt.
With the Titans, Birch will start next month, with his role including business planning and strategy and dealing with state and local government.