By ROB MAADDI and BARRY WILNER
The Associated Press
NFL teams that experience a COVID-19 outbreak among nonvaccinated players could forfeit regular-season games, with players on both teams not getting paid.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell warned the 32 teams Thursday in a memo obtained by The Associated Press that no games would be rescheduled under such circumstances. Instead, forfeits could happen.
“As we learned last year, we can play a full season if we maintain a firm commitment to adhering to our health and safety protocols and to making needed adjustments in response to changing conditions,” Goodell said.
He added that the league does not anticipate adding a 19th week to accommodate games that need to be moved because of coronavirus issues.
“If a game can’t be rescheduled and is canceled due to a COVID outbreak among non-vaccinated players on one of the competing teams, the team with the outbreak will forfeit and will be deemed to have played 16 games for purposes of draft, waiver priority, etc,” Goodell added.
For purposes of playoff seeding, the forfeiting team would be assessed a loss and the other team a win.
If there is a virus outbreak because of a “spike in vaccinated individuals, we will attempt to minimize the competitive and economic burden on both participating teams,” the memo said.
The NFL has not made vaccinations mandatory. The league and the NFL Players Association, however, are strongly urging team employees and players to do so.
Last year, in the height of the pandemic, the NFL completed its season, the playoffs and Super Bowl on time. But it had contingency plans for an 18th week to play makeup games if needed. There were several postponements but no cancellations.
For the 2021, the regular season has been expanded to 17 games.
The league says more than half its teams currently have COVID-19 vaccination rates greater than 80% of their players, and more than 75% of players are in the process of being vaccinated. All training camps will be open by the end of next week.
Nearly all clubs have vaccinated 100% of their Tier 1 and 2 staffs — essentially players, coaches and other club members who have direct contact with the players. Teams have appropriate protocols set up for staffers who have not been vaccinated, consistent with the guidance given last April.
The players’ union, in response to Goodell’s memo, reminded its players that “the same basic rules applied last year.”
“The only difference this year is the NFL’s decision to impose additional penalties on clubs which are responsible for the outbreak and the availability of proven vaccines,” the NFLPA memo said Thursday.
“The protocols we jointly agreed to helped get us through a full season last year without missing game checks and are effective, when followed.”
Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who was stricken with the coronavirus last year, called getting the vaccine “a touchy subject,” though he added he has been vaccinated.
“You can’t really tell someone what to do with their body,” Elliott said at Cowboys training camp. “I grew up in a family where we didn’t get vaccines so it’s kind of hard to tell someone who their whole life their mom and dad tell them not to get vaccines to go get vaccinated. So I mean I don’t know, it’s everyone’s body, you can’t tell them what to do.”
As for potential forfeits, he added:
“A check is only monetary, you can’t put a price on someone’s health or what they think will make them feel good or not make them feel good. Like I said, you’re kind of walking a tight line. “
Other key points in the league’s memo:
— If a vaccinated person tests positive and is not symptomatic, he or she will be isolated and contact tracing will promptly occur. The positive individual will be permitted to return to duty after two negative tests at least 24 hours apart, and will thereafter be tested every two weeks or as directed by the medical staffs. Vaccinated individuals will not be subject to quarantine as a result of close contact with an infected person.
— If an unvaccinated person tests positive, the protocols from 2020 will remain in effect. The person will be isolated for a period of 10 days and will then be permitted to return to duty if not symptomatic. Unvaccinated individuals will continue to be subject to a five-day quarantine period if they have close contact with an infected individual.
— Those who had a previous COVID-19 infection will be considered fully vaccinated 14 days after they have had at least one dose of an approved vaccine.