When the deal to open training camps on time got done Friday, a call was organized for all the football people, coaches and GMs, in the NFL. Super Bowl champion coach Andy Reid was asked to speak. He’s become a sort of United Nations secretary general, a bridge to all constituencies—speaking to union reps, advising commissioner Roger Goodell, working with the league on a sensible training-camp schedule, and talking to his peer coaches and general managers. Reid made the point that this was different than the lockout of 2011, when players and owners were warring and teams couldn’t have contact with players through the spring and most of July.
“This time,” Reid told the football people, “this isn’t us versus them. This isn’t players versus owners and coaches. This is all of us—players, coaches, owners, teams—versus COVID.”
So much meaning in that. All of us versus COVID. As training camps begin this week and the NFL barrels full-speed ahead to some kind of a season, this is like no time in NFL history. The union and its medical team, and the league and its medical team, made a collaborative deal on training-camp working conditions after a mish-mashed offseason of no practice or organized workouts. The union and the league found the kind of middle ground that confident and well-intentioned negotiators had to find to do a deal in the middle of a pandemic, and to avoid looking as stupid as baseball did in June.
Now there will be football. We think. I find myself strangely optimistic about the NFL season this morning. I say “strangely” because with testing due to ramp up Tuesday in most team facilities across the league, with players flying in from spiked and unspiked places, there’s likely to be a spate of players and staff testing positive. When you test 5,760 people—32 teams, 80-plus players, 100 coaches and player-involved employees per team—there will be players big and small, and certainly a few surprise team people—who test positive. I’ll be surprised if some even overly cautious vital club official doesn’t test positive. Just too many people being tested.
As I surveyed league and team people and head coaches and GMs and six players over the weekend, I found a we-can-do-this sense of cooperation you don’t often hear in this highly competitive league. Some of that might come from a clear mandate from Roger Goodell on the call with football people to eliminate any public talk of disagreement or complaining about this imperfect training camp and oddball season. Some, but not all. One GM of a successful franchise said he was seriously considering not raiding another team’s Practice Squad this year, knowing how his own squad of 16 spare players might be crucial to his team if a COVID outbreak hit his locker room, and he’d feel crappy about hurting another team’s taxi squad.
So many odd points that no football person would ever think of during any other season. In May, I wrote that coaches and all football people had to prepare for a wholly unfair season because there will be inequities, and maybe a lot of them. One team can have 20,000 fans at home in the second half of a season; a division rival can have zero. One team gets four linebackers knocked out for two weeks by COVID; a division rival has a clean bill of health. One team is forced to abandon a home game or two because of a COVID spike; a division rival, with an extra home game, might win the division.
Maybe there’s a Week 18, with COVID-related postponement being made up. And, much less likely, maybe this is the first NFL season in 85 years when every team doesn’t play a full season of games.
Giants co-owner John Mara, chairman of the league’s powerful Management Council Executive Committee, had an uneven playing field on his mind Friday afternoon in a call with fellow owners.
“We have to accept that this is not going to be a perfect season,” he said.
On today’s agenda:
• The Jamal Adams trade reminded us that, Hey, there’s real football coming. “An extraordinary opportunity for us,” Pete Carroll told me.
• Could there be a regular-season Week 18 this season, and maybe a Week 19? File this under, “You never know.”
• The agony of a real-life Ekeler/Thielen, an undrafted free-agent praying roster-thinning or a positive test doesn’t kill his NFL dream. (You’ll love Earnest Edwards.)
• Kudos to those who take lots of guff. Roger Goodell, DeMaurice Smith and their lieutenants negotiated significant concessions to be sure football gets played.
• Is playing football in a pandemic a good idea? Sunday Night football czar Fred Gaudelli told me: “The country needs something positive to get their mind off it, and have some enjoyment weekly. Football plays a huge part in the American psyche.”
• The Laurent Duvernay-Tardif opt-out decision. That was a wow, but highly understandable.
• The not-so-hidden message on every veterans’ mind. As vet Lions linebacker Jamie Collins told me: “We’ll be talking to the young guys about what to do at night. I’ll never tell a guy not to live, but I will tell ‘em: ‘Stay home, be smart. Don’t mess up our money.’ ”
• QB COVID insurance. Seattle coach Pete Carroll with an interesting take on quarterback social-distancing.
• I tell you about the mechanics of a positive coronavirus test. Depending when it happens, a positive test could kayo a player for two games.
• The Falcons are worried about their employees’ mental health. I watched their 16th Town Hall Friday. Informative.
• Why teams were busy cutting players madly over the weekend. Most teams seem to be intent on 80-man rosters entering camp, not the customary camp-opening 90, because 90 would entail two separate practices. “What do we do—keep the other 10 in the parking lot while 80 are working?” one league wag told me.
It’s quite a week. Get your iced coffee (it’s a broiler out there) and settle in.
The quirks in this season
“Hope is not a strategy,” Roger Goodell has said to league and team employees, and you can be sure he’s not just hoping the league plays 256 regular-season and 13 postseason games in the time and TV slots now scheduled. He’s planning for every alternative; you just won’t hear him talk about the alternatives. I think he’ll have the power to make decisions about competitive fairness in the best interests of the game.
There are two alternatives, in particular, that he has to be thinking about, and soon. I doubt he’d make a team forfeit if it had a mass outbreak; in that case, my bet is he’d postpone a game, or two max. Any more than that and you’d have to think that team might not play a full 16-game schedule. If a position group for a team gets knocked out—say, five Vikings starting offensive linemen test positive the Friday before playing the Bears—Goodell should have the discretion to postpone the game. Not just because of competitive balance (imagine three or four players making their NFL debuts protecting Kirk Cousins in a pennant-race game at Soldier Field), but because of safety concerns. With the ability to push playoffs back if need be, Goodell may want to create an extra week at the back end of the regular season for one or more games to be rescheduled.
Is it possible that X number of positive tests could cause a team to be sidelined for a week or two? Yes. But I think Goodell is more inclined to not draw a line in the sand, but rather to take things on a case-by-case basis. Four starting offensive linemen on a team testing positive is different than single players from four positions groups testing positive.
I realize this is all so speculative. I am making some educated guesses. But the Miami Marlins postponed their flight home from Philadelphia on Sunday evening after speculation spread that several of their players (including Sunday’s starting pitcher in Philadelphia) tested positive for COVID, and manager Don Mattingly said multiple players would remain in quarantine in Pennsylvania while the rest of the team returned to Miami for a Monday night game. Baseball is not in a bubble. Football will not be in a bubble. Baseball has been playing games for four days now, and this happened. We’d be naïve to think the NFL, as controlling as it is, is immune from in-season outbreaks.
Talk about win-win
This is the way to do the scoreboard on the eye-popping Jamal Adams trade Saturday afternoon, which was Adams and a fourth-round pick in 2022 from the Jets to Seattle for safety Bradley McDougald, first-round picks in 2021 and ’22, and a third-round pick in ’21:
• Cancel out the three and the four, even though the Jets get an edge with the pick being a year earlier, because Seattle’s likely to pick low in the third and the Jets high in the fourth. Maybe there’s a difference of 15 to 20 picks, which at that point of the draft isn’t huge.
• This is Adams for two first-round picks and McDougald, a serviceable 30-year-old strong safety of identical size (6-1, 215), playing his walk year with the Seahawks’ ninth-highest cap number ($5.4 million) in 2020.
• Seattle has entered the last five drafts (pre-John Schneider trades) with an average first-round draft position of 23.4. So figure the Jets dealt Adams for a one-year strong safety replacement of a much lesser skill level and first-round picks in the next two years likely to be somewhere around 23.
“We haven’t drafted above 25 for what—10 years?” Pete Carroll told me Saturday night. Almost. Seattle took Bruce Irvin 15th overall in 2012, but it was 2010 when the Seahawks got Russell Okung sixth and Earl Thomas 14th in the first round. Otherwise, they haven’t picked earlier than 25th overall in the past 10 years.
“So we haven’t had a shot at a top-10 pick in a while, and we haven’t had a shot at a top safety in the draft since Earl. This was an extraordinary opportunity for us. Jamal’s a legitimate impact player, in the style we love.”
Analyzing it for each team:
From the Seattle standpoint: This was about getting a premier player, but also a player it has to pay—and probably right now. But there’s no question Schneider and Carroll look at the composition of the roster and the draft a little differently than most teams. Not including the 2020 draft, Seattle, which wheels and deals its traditionally low first-round picks, has drafted five players in the top 45 since 2014: wide receiver Paul Richardson, offensive lineman Germain Ifedi, defensive tackle Malik McDowell, running back Rashaad Penny and defensive end L.J. Collier. So even if the price for Adams seems high (it is), the Seahawks are the rare team that pays for the player even when most teams would say they’re overpaying. In the Seattle system, Adams won’t be a Kam Chancellor clone. Adams is not as big or as physical, and it’s unlikely he’ll be asked to drop down to linebacker to fill a run gap, which Chancellor did at times. Adams could blitz more than Chancellor did, and rove the field with his athleticism and instinct.
Lastly: Seattle has to pay Adams—likely around $18 million a year. Odd to say, but that won’t kill the ‘Hawks. According to Over The Cap, Seattle is 26th in 2021 cap money committed, at $147 million. And with stars Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner not coming up for new deals, it’s clear they can find room for Adams.
From the Jets’ standpoint: I believe GM Joe Douglas would have hung onto Adams and forced him to come to camp, even after his rip-job of coach Adam Gase to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News on Friday. But two first-round picks made that point moot. I agree that the deal was too good to walk away from. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Jets are a lesser team today without Adams, in a division that is suddenly up for grabs. The Jets look like the last-place team in the AFC East for the fourth year in the last five. They’ve got to stop throwing away good players, and they’ve got to start building the type of culture and team that attracts good players instead of repelling them. On the bright side, New York is in the best reconstruction position of any NFL team in the next two drafts, the only team with four first-round picks in 2021 and ’22 combined. Joe Douglas was hired to rebuild this team, and now he’s got the best ammo of any team in football to do so.
“I wouldn’t trade two ones for a safety,” one veteran GM told me Saturday night. “Particularly when you’ve got to pay the safety a lot of money. I like what the Jets did.” That was a common belief around the league after the Adams trade went down. But Seattle in this era will take the proven player over the maybe, and a motivated-to-stick-it-to-his-doubters Adams could be the best safety in football in 2020. The best safety in football is surely worth two picks in the twenties.
Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith have had their rocky moments in their 11 years facing off running the league and the NFLPA, respectively. But they’ve shared an olive branch this year. Smith eked out a win at the dawn of the pandemic, convincing enough of his players to take a decade-long labor agreement in March. That looks great now; not doing that deal could have cratered the salary cap for players in 2021 and beyond. And the key to this training-camp deal getting done, I believe, was the NFLPA understanding that the league would not enter a season guaranteeing veteran contracts for the year if vets were active in Week 1, and if the pandemic forced a league closure in Week 4 or 6 or 8. (“You can’t pay Dak Prescott $31 million to play three games,” one GM said, referring to Prescott’s one-year franchise-player salary). Was taking a stand on that worth shutting down the league? Smith knew it wasn’t. But Smith stood firm on no salary reductions in 2020 unless the season got shortened or canceled; if the players were taking the virus risk to play, they should certainly make the salaries they were due. The league bent on the 2021 cap floor (raising it from $165 million to $175 million) and on spreading the cap adjustments over three years instead of making players take the entire financial hit in 2021.
One top team official told me: “Credit to Roger. All year, he’s pressed ahead—with the labor deal, free agency, the draft, and now training camp. The thought process is, Why postpone it? There’s no reason to think by pushing these things back the virus will go away. Every single time he’s been right.”
Andy Reid: “I got on the phone with the union guys, and I had a lot of respect for them. They had concerns that we’d take care of the players physically. They insisted on that. The union did a nice job. Their concern was that as coaches we don’t just throw ‘em in the mix right away, don’t ramp ‘em up too fast. Which is smart. We can do that.”
The two sides seem to be in a good place in case the game goes haywire this fall. In so many words, Mara said on a Thursday night call with the union: We’ve worked well together through this process to get to this point. The spirit of cooperation has been really good. We’re obviously headed into uncharted territory this year, and there are going to be other issues we’ll have to work out. We’re going try to work these out as partners too.”
The human toll
Team after team over the weekend pared previously signed camp bodies, undrafted prospects, because many teams preferred 80-man rosters. Any more than that, and coaches would have to have a separate practice/workout schedule for the extras. Fans don’t get fired up over teams losing 10 unknown rookies, although losing them would mean we’d never have heard of Austin Ekeler, the all-purpose star back of the Chargers, or Pro Bowl receiver Adam Thielen of the Vikings. Both undrafted. Both longshots. Maybe two to four per team would make the cut to 53 in September, and last year, four undrafted free-agents were among the 106 Niners and Chiefs on Super Bowl rosters.
That brings us to Maine receiver/return Earnest Edwards, and the plane ticket he held in his hand Sunday night. Rochester, N.Y. (his hometown) to Los Angeles. Headed to Rams camp. You might recognize him on his American flight. Earnest Edwards will be the 5-foot-10 fellow dressed with little skin exposed, double-masked, on his first trip ever to California.
Edwards has to be worried that the Rams—with 10 receivers on the camp roster after cutting one Saturday—might cut another unknown and undrafted rookie before camp begins. He has to be worried about being able to show his quicks in camp with no preseason games to make big plays. And he has to be worried about testing positive for COVID-19 when he walks into the testing facility at Cal Lutheran Tuesday morning.
“The world is just crazy,” Edwards said over the weekend from Rochester. “I never imagined this in my life. No preseason games where I would have been able to open some eyes, the virus . . . They could cut me for anything. On this flight, I have a customized mask, I’ll stay by myself, isolated, using hand sanitizer. I never thought this would be my NFL experience. This is like in a movie.”
But Edwards, surprisingly, has a positive attitude. Every day during videoconference classroom sessions in the spring, he took copious notes. He drew up 60 to 75 flashcards, with his assignment on one side of the card and the drawing of the play on the other. Every day in the spring and early summer, his older brother Damon went to a local field with him and tested him on every one of the routes. He’ll get his chance as a slot receiver, but he has studied each spot on the Rams’ route tree, just in case.
“With the preseason games out, now I have to do it different—meetings, the weight room, practice when we get out there. Every route I run will be a game for me. I can’t let all of this stuff get me down. I will control the controllables. When I signed with the Rams, I was so excited. I thought, Sean McVay! So young! Changed the whole program around! That’s where I wanted to be. They play so much three-receiver, putting receivers all over the formation. That’s the offense for me.
“Hopefully I test negative, and I get my chance. I know I can play.”
Just think: There are 300 Earnest Edwardses who won’t get the chance of their dreams.
Be smart. Be monastic
If coaches are smart this week, they’ll talk to their players about not spreading the virus and tell the story of Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth. A family member went to lunch the day before the family piled into a vehicle to go on vacation in June. Within days, Whitworth, his wife, four kids, a nanny and his mother- and father-in-law all had the virus. Nine for nine. Over the weekend, Mike Florio reported players can’t attend indoor night clubs, indoor bars, house parties, indoor concerts, professional sporting events, or indoor church services that allow attendance above 25 percent of capacity. Players can be fined for violating these rules, and if they test positive after doing any of those, they won’t be paid for the games they miss. So there’s one bit of motivation. I asked a few players, coaches and league officials about keeping players virus-free when not in a bubble.
Cincinnati safety Vonn Bell: “One of the first things you do as a mentor is be a big leader. You got guys who aren’t going to listen to the protocols, who want to live life their way. One guy could ruin a whole team. It’s crucial for guys to understand you can’t be selfish. Gotta think about team. Fight the temptation. I’m gonna make sure I talk to guys, say, ‘Stay in, think about the team.’ “
Detroit linebacker Jamie Collins: “We gotta find a way to get all 90 guys to do the right thing. That’s hard. New guys, rookies, might want to get out and party. It’s not just about one person. You bleed together, you sweat together, you do not want to play with vets’ money. Men look at it totally different than boys. Kids are gonna be kids, especially in a new environment for the first time. That’s gonna be really important.”
Pete Carroll: “Rule number one here: Always protect the team. I’ll convey the degree of discipline we need here, every day. I’ll tell them your conscience is important; your conscience has to guide you.” (By the way, rule number two? Carroll: “No complaining. There’s no room for you here if you bitch.”)
Chargers running back Austin Ekeler: “A lot of it comes down to the responsibility of the players. It sucks, but we are going to have to distance ourselves from our fans and in some cases from our family. Our job depends on our availability. It’ll take some sacrifice. But if we want to go back to work, it’s really gonna come down to putting ourselves in our own little bubble.”
To play or not to play
This is a struggle for many. Should the NFL be taking up the testing resources—40,320 tests per week for players and staff when daily testing commences on Saturday—that might be used in a needy society? Should the NFL be risking the health of players in states (Florida, Texas, Arizona, California) with nine teams in spiking COVID numbers? I’ve got my thoughts. I think the NFL will be good for the country this fall, really good, if the league can pull it off. This is a year when the league pulled off a 10-year labor extension, a virtual draft and now the opening of camps. I put nothing past an organization that knows it has $9 billion in TV and national revenue on the line. But I do think it will be hard to complete a season when you’ve got to keep 2,208 men between 21 and 43 disciplined and mostly out of the public for five months. We’re about to see an interesting human experiment.
“I see both sides,” said Vonn Bell. “The game brings people together, so that’s good, especially now. We have to be aware of the families, of the danger of this virus. Gotta be smart, sensible. I’m in-between on it, really. I think at the end of the day, I feel like America needs to feel some normalcy. We can give them that right now. We just need to be careful in how we live our lives.”
The dedicated man
At times, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was leaning toward playing guard for the Super Bowl champion Chiefs this year. At times, he was leaning toward care-giving as a Quebec physician during the COVID crisis. “He might want to be an infectious-disease doctor,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. Duvernay-Tardif hasn’t said anything other than a statement about his decision to bypass football for the 2020 season and continue his medical mission in Canada. But the statement said a lot: “Being at the front line during this offseason has given me a different perspective on this pandemic and the stress it puts on individuals and our healthcare system,” he said. “I cannot allow myself to potentially transmit the virus to our communities simply to play the sport I love. If I am to take risks, I will do it caring for patients.”
Reading that, I found myself thinking Duvernay-Tardif was following his medical code—at a time of crisis, a doctor is bound to care for his patients, regardless of other opportunities he has. I can imagine Duvernay-Tardif hearing and reading the stories of exhausted care-givers in the battle against the virus, and thinking how sick he’d feel if he left his post and created some hardship, no matter how small, for another doctor or other doctors. Don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that’s the kind of ethos he has. The Chiefs have left the door wide open for Duvernay-Tardif (who will be 30 on opening day 2021) to return to the team and reclaim his job in the next year or two.
Pete Carroll, professional optimist
No preseason games: “If this is what it is, we’ll take it on. No preseason games? Every college football team, their first game is their first game of the year. No problem for me. It’s an opportunity.”
On being positive in this weird time: “I’m about as optimistic a person as you’ll find. With big challenges and hurdles, how do you handle it? How resilient? Can you keep hope alive? Life is hard, football is hard, and this is adding an element none of us ever had to deal with.
If the Seahawks play in front of zero fans: “It’ll remind me of my U of P days [University of the Pacific]. Friends and family only. My thought: We will compete like crazy, fans or not. I am not worried about it. Fans have always been a factor, and we love ‘em, but that is not going to affect how we play. We can’t let that happen.”
Whether the strike season in 1987, with replacement players, reminds him of this (Carroll was a 36-year-old DB coach with the Vikings then): “That was nothing like this. Not even close. That year, in particular, unique situation. Remember [GM] Mike Lynn? Other teams around the league are putting together strike teams, thinking the players are going on strike [after the second game], but Mike thought all the way till Wednesday of that week it wasn’t happening. So he had to go out and find a bunch of players, and our strike team was awful. You’ve got to go find [then-head coach] Jerry Burns and ask him to tell you the story. Burnsie was gonna play me at quarterback in that game. He said one of his biggest regrets was not playing me at quarterback. This year, this practice squad’s gonna be important, because you may have to use a bunch of those guys in games during the season. Heaven forbid you get a position group smoked. That could happen. If you lose a position group, you lose ‘em for 10 to 13 days. What if you lose both quarterbacks? But we got a plan for that. They’re not gonna be in the same meeting room.”
What’s important: “Our language. Our language, the words we use and how we speak and how positive we are, will be important. I’ll be listening to coaches for that. And learning. We are a committed virtual team. We found out this offseason we can learn virtually, and learn well. Many things you lose in this environment, but you gotta compensate. We did it this offseason, and we knew it could happen during the season, and let’s get great at it. So we did.”
One team doing virtual business
We forget sometimes that a football organization might be 240 people plus the players, the vast majority of those we don’t hear of. In the pandemic, teams have been doing things to keep the employees who’d been working in kitchens and bedrooms around the United States feeling like they were still part of the team. So it was last Friday that Falcons president and CEO Rich McKay—who, as the chairman of the league’s Competition Committee had worked all week on virtual calls to help structure a deal with the union so training camps could open—welcomed all employees of owner Arthur Blank’s businesses to the 16th virtual Town Hall of the pandemic.
“Not sure if when we started these town halls, we thought we’d get to 16,” McKay said. “I think we’re all a little surprised by that but here we are.” Then he wished a few employees happy birthday, congratulated a couple of businesses in the Blank portfolio for jobs well done, and introduced others to update employees on various projects.
Now, with only 100 Falcons’ employees cleared to return to work in the building, a huge swath of the organization will likely stay home, or stay in parents’ homes, and work remotely for the season. Afterward, I asked McKay how the organization will handle that. “When this began, we told our employees to go home—go where there are people,” he said. “Mentally, I think it’s tough if you wake up alone every day and stay alone all day. Be around people. These town halls were an effort to include everyone. We didn’t want anyone to feel like we’ve moved on. And we wanted to connect face-to-face, virtually, and not just by email. We want all our employees to know they’re still part of the team, wherever they are.”
The league began using a category Sunday called “reserve/COVID-19,” which will be used on players who either test positive or have been quarantined after being in close contact with an infected person. The NFL will not announce which category the player falls into. As of Sunday night, six players from five teams were on the list, with dozens more expected this week.
If a player tests positive, he falls into one of two categories:
• If he has symptoms of COVID-19, at least 10 days must pass since the first symptoms occurred and at least 72 hours have passed since symptoms last occurred. He must test negative and have his return approved by a team doctor in consultation with league medical officials.
• If he is asymptomatic, 10 days must have passed since his positive test—or five days have passed since the positive test, plus two tests that show negative results, for him to resume playing.
Translation: Players who get sick and feel sick will likely miss two games. If players testing positive feel no symptoms for days, they’d have a chance after two negative tests to return after missing one. There are quite a few iterations to testing, but what will be crucial is distancing once in the practice facility. Players will be contact-traced through a device they will wear daily, and if it’s found they’ve been in close contact with a players, coach or staffer who has tested positive, they’ll have to test immediately and follow a separate protocol. In other words, lots to wade through here.
“My job is to listen to calls, and this offer was one we could not ignore.”
—Jets GM Joe Douglas, after trading star safety Jamal Adams to Seattle for a package that included two first-round draft picks.
“I have a wife, a daughter, two sisters, and to ever think about something like that happening to them disgusts me and pisses me off. So hopefully, we get to where we need to be—an environment and a culture that’s acceptable for everybody and lets everybody thrive and is safe for everybody.”
—Washington quarterback Alex Smith, to Stephania Bell of ESPN, on the Washington Post report that 15 club employees and two media members—all women—were sexually harassed by team employees.
“Henry Ruggs was the player I wanted for the last six months. My dad was always trying to replace Cliff [Branch] with so many different types of guys … Speed, speed, speed and we really got away from that the last five, six, seven years. We really didn’t have anybody that could run. I was just so thrilled that we drafted him. Maybe that’s the piece that we haven’t had that’s Raiders football. You throw it deep the first play and the safety is worried the whole game.”
—Raiders owner Mark Davis on the Alabama receiver who was Las Vegas’ first pick in the 2020 draft, to Vic Tafur of The Athletic.
“Acuna goes down! And the fake crowd roars!”
—ESPN baseball announcer Boog Sciambi, doing the Atlanta-Mets opener Friday, after Jacob deGrom struck out Ronald Acuna to start the game, prompting the crowd of 00,000 to fake-crowd-noise Citi Field.
“Just a little education: The fastest vaccine in world history was four years, and that was for the mumps. We are right now [with COVID-19] at about five months. Everybody asks that question of, ‘How are you going to play football without a vaccine?’ Well, there are viruses out there like HIV that never got a vaccine. The common cold doesn’t have a vaccine. Herpes doesn’t have a vaccine. So, we have other viruses that don’t have a vaccine and there’s no telling that we’re going to get a vaccine for this. We have to go to the next step. If we get the vaccine, great. But we have to go to the next step of testing.”
—Kansas City VP of Sports Medicine and Performance/Infection Control Officer Rick Burkholder, with some common-sense info about vaccines.
A different kind of training camp kicks off this week around the NFL. For those following at home, and using the calendar as a guide, most teams in the league will conform to a calendar that looks like this for practices at training camp:
• COVID testing dates/virtual team meetings: July 28, 29, 30, 31.
• Physical exams/virtual meetings/daily COVID testing begins: Aug. 1, 2.
• Strength/conditioning/walk-through practices: Aug. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11.
• Phase 2 of practice (helmets but no pads): Held on four of these days: Aug. 12, 13, 14, 15, 16.
• Padded practices (coaches’ discretion, max of 14): Starting Aug. 17. No more than three straight days.
• Mandatory days off: Aug. 8, then one day off every seven days.
• Padded practices resume: Aug. 22
• Cut deadline to 80 players for those teams that chose to practice with 90: Aug. 16.
• Cut deadline to 53 players/Practice squads of 16 per team established: Sept. 5.
• Week 1: Sept. 10-14.
Andy Reid’s mother, Elizabeth, who was a radiologist, got her medical degree from McGill University in Montreal. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif got his medical degree from McGill University.
One of the last public appearances for the late Georgia congressman, John Lewis, was as a guest speaker on the Atlanta Falcons’ employees virtual Town Hall on June 5.
No travel in the past week, so I thought I’d give you an idea of what training-camp reportage will be like this year. It’s not a pretty picture, and will impact the reporting and images you see out of NFL camps from reporters and TV and radio outlets. (But I’m fully supportive of it.) Usually, I attend and report from about 20 or 22 camps starting in late July, barnstorming with a couple of NBC aides (a videographer and a driver/reporter/producer) on a very Americana trip. Last year’s non-football highlights: throwing out the first pitch at a Pensacola (Fla.) Blue Wahoos double-A baseball game, sandwiched between visits to Jacksonville and New Orleans on the I-10 corridor; touring the somber yet inspirational Flight 93 National Memorial (where United Flight 93 fell to earth on 9/11) in Shanksville, Pa.; seeing the sun set over the Rockies while at Broncos camp. That won’t happen this year. My schedule is still up in the air, but I’ll probably see five or fewer teams in person. We’ll see.
The NFL has divided media into two categories, 2M and 3OA . . . loosely standing for Main Media and Outside Access Only. At each practice, there will be a max of 10 media in the 2M category and 30 in 3OA. The group of 10 will undergo the same testing protocols to enter a camp that a player or coach will: a test one day, and a second test three days later—with both tests being negative—followed by a daily temperature check and answering favorably to a series of health questions. That group will be able to watch practice from a designated spot, talk to players on Zoom calls or the phone, and talk to coaches. The coaches will have a choice whether to speak with 2M media at a distance or by videoconference. The 2M media is allowed in a media workroom inside the team facility to work during the day, wearing masks.
The 3OA media will not have to have to be tested. Those media will have no access to the building or to any in-person coach interviews (if the coaches in that camp choose to talk in-person at a distance), and will have to view practice apart from the 2M media and socially distant from other 3OA reporters in a separate viewing area. Once practice is over, 3OA media leave the grounds and would conduct interviews by phone or videoconference off-premises. If it rains and practice moves indoors, 2M media will be allowed to watch; 3OA media will not.
So if I’d want to go to a camp with a 2M designation, I’d have to commit to spending five days at a camp: test day one, quasi-quarantine on days two and three, test day four, await results, watch practice day five. As a 3OA reporter, I could show up the morning of practice, watch practice, then likely head immediately to a hotel to get set up for an interview or interviews.
It’s different, and it’s challenging. The traveling troupes that usually bring you close to your teams during the next month—NFL Network, ESPN, me, Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, folks from other sites who still travel—will have their frequent-flier miles curtailed this year. No way the coverage will be as inside, or as thorough. I remember last year getting quality time with Cam Newton after a Panthers practice, with him talking about being a changed quarterback, the South Carolina sun beating down on us. Such a conversation this year likely won’t have the same feel—or candor. Being a resident of New York, I also have to be cognizant of the states that require a 14-day quarantine when I return home to Brooklyn; I’m on day 10 of the 14-day quarantine after returning from my trip to Minnesota July 17. So if I visit the Bucs and return to New York, for instance, I’ll be down for two weeks because Florida is a spikey state and requires quarantine upon returning.
I’m not complaining, and no one is, at least no one I’ve talked to. I’ll be pleased to go to a few and document the 2020 reality, whatever it is. As with those we cover, those who can adjust to the new world will be the most enlightening.
Two general managers I touched base with praised Joe Douglas for his return in the Jamal Adams trade.
Then, one of them asked:
“What’s he going to do about the coach?”
— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) July 25, 2020
Manish Mehta covers the Jets for the New York Daily News and wrote the story of Adams eviscerating the organization two days before New York traded him to Seattle. In the story, Adams was particularly critical of coach Adam Gase.
We had the Washington Bullets and now we have the Washington Blanks.
— Eric Adelson (@eric_adelson) July 23, 2020
Adelson is a sportswriter and teacher at the University of Florida.
They had all that time and came up with, “Washington Football Team”..
— Emmanuel Acho (@EmmanuelAcho) July 23, 2020
Acho is a co-host of the FOX show “Speak for Yourself” and does the popular internet videos “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.”
No QB in the #NFL has been thrust into a worse situation when it comes to on the field roster talent & off the field organizational failure more than Sam Darnold. The @nyjets have asked him to get them off the deserted island with no compass & paper straws as tools. Good luck
— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) July 24, 2020
Former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky works for ESPN.
imagine trying to make sense of this photo 12 months ago https://t.co/Q3VNYKljaa
— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) July 26, 2020
Bill Barnwell analyzes the NFL for ESPN.
An Indiana high school football coach checks in, concerned. (I am withholding his name at his request.) “I found your tour of the Vikings facility both informative and eye opening. It really scares me to think about what we’re doing at the high school level. To see what teams like the Vikings are doing to protect their players is impressive. High schools, with no money, and not near the space, are not getting the same treatment. In your article you talk about a meeting room with 172 seats and only 42 will fill those seats at a time. In high school football, we have anywhere from 35 to 75 kids on a team, jammed into classrooms, makeshift meeting rooms, etc to watch film and meet. It makes no sense to me at all. The NFL has the money to test almost daily. We don’t, at least the schools I know about, have the ability to test at all. We ask a series of questions and if the player answers ‘yes’ to any of the questions, the player is sent home. The kids who LOVE football understand this and will always answer ‘no’ to avoid missing practice time. I’m really concerned.
“I know I’m in the minority when it comes to high school coaches. Most want to play, but the risk doesn’t equal the reward. High schools, like a lot of the colleges you hear about, need the football revenue so things continue ‘as normal.’ I see it with my own eyes, but it’s really said when adults put in charge of protecting and doing what’s best for our kids are more concerned about the almighty dollar. I love football. I love the life lessons. I’m just afraid we’re teaching the absolute wrong lesson this season.”
What a wonderful, real, stark and important email this is. Thanks for putting into words what so many coaches around the country who are being told there will be a football season must be thinking. We’re teaching the absolute wrong lesson this season. What a powerful message you are sending, Coach. I truly hope that some high school administrators in states around the country, particularly states where outbreaks are increasing, read this and think to themselves: “Let’s wait a minute here, and see if football in a pandemic, without the safeguards professional teams have, is really sensible.”
This is life. From Rene Reyes of Boston: “Thanks for your behind-the-scenes access into what the Vikings’ practice facility will look like in our COVID-19 world and the types of technology that will be available for a football team to get ready for a potential season. As a public high school teacher, I can’t help but feel extremely discouraged and frustrated at what money can buy, especially in a time where students, staff, and community partners are afraid for their health and safety to go back into schools. Imagine if school buildings were being given the types of resources to create learning environments that are as pristine and sanitized as these football facilities?”
You’re right, Rene. And it is sad to realize the money is the ruling factor here. There’s about $9 billion in national revenue (mostly network TV), some $290 million per team, at stake for playing these games. Unfortunately, there’s no such pot of gold awaiting public schools (or private schools) if they are able to open school effectively, or play sports schedules. It’s all a matter of what we prioritize as a country. I would gladly trade this NFL season in exchange for schools nationwide being able to operate safely this school year.
The economics of testing. From Austin Tague of Roswell, Ga. “With NFL, NBA, and MLB starting back up, why hasn’t any mention been made of the testing resources that have been made available to these groups? I am a 65-year-old male who has tested positive and had to go through hoops just to get tested.”
I understand the frustration, Austin. Hope you’re doing okay. Here’s how I look at it: Would the 5,760 tests the NFL will be doing daily, at least for the first two weeks of training camp, be used on other Americans if they were not used on football players and team personnel? I am dubious that they would. I am not defending this protocol and saying it’s right. I’m saying the practicality is that I doubt 6,000 more people per day around the country would be getting tested, and getting their results back within 24 hours, if the NFL just went to the sideline and didn’t play.
Good question. From Ward Low: “Shouldn’t the NFL be coming up with alternatives to close contact at camp? Such as installing speakers in all the helmets, not just the quarterbacks and defensive signal caller? This could let plays be called without everyone grouping together.”
I’m sure this would be possible, Ward. But at some point in every play, there will be contact. And the fact that players stood far apart to get the play would not be anything like what would happen when the ball is snapped. So would it help?
1. I think we’re probably eight weeks from any serious consideration about this next item. But the Super Bowl is 28 weeks away. That’s six months and a week till Super Bowl week. This is another what-if that you can be sure the league will be thinking about by, say, October if Florida continues to be on fire with the virus: moving the Super Bowl. The game is scheduled for Feb. 7 in Tampa. The league certainly would want the game to be played with at least some fans and with the sort of pageantry that accompanies the biggest sports event on the calendar. We’re at least two months from serious consideration about the site of the Super Bowl, but it’s something in a year with so much in flux that you have to understand it could be in play if, eight or nine weeks from now, Florida and Tampa-St. Petersburg in particular are hot spots.
2. I think the Michael Bennett retirement should not go forgotten this week. I appreciated his greatness. The veteran defensive lineman called it quits last week on an 11-year career. He had 69.5 sacks and won a Super Bowl with Seattle in 2014. He’s one of the most underrated defensive ends of his era, and one of the most underrated I’ve covered. The year after he won his Super Bowl with Seattle was the nightmare Seattle loss to New England. And when the NFL Films “Do Your Job” special of that game came out a few months after the 28-24 Patriots win, the star of the show was the special assistant to Bill Belichick, the secretive Ernie Adams. And Adams said this after pre-game prep for the Seahawks:”Number one, offensively, we had to block a fabulous player, Bennett, No. 72. Truth is, we didn’t really block him all day.” When Bill Belichick sets out to block a guy and has trouble doing it for four quarters, that’s one heck of a football player.
3. I think the fact that Alex Smith—who fractured his tibia and fibula on a grotesque tackle in 2018, and was in danger of losing his leg following a severe infection—has been cleared to resume football activities is the most amazing story of this amazing season.
4. I think this is what championship teams do: Kansas City lost starting guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif last week for all the right reasons, and signed Kelechi Osemele, 31, the one-time all-pro guard, to replace Duvernay-Tardif for one season. The team would have paid Duvernay-Tardif $3.5 million; he’ll be eligible to receive $150,000 as an opt-out player without medical need. Osemele will play this year, per reports, for $2 million. I’m sure Andy Reid would want Duvernay-Tardif to continue starting at guard for Kansas City. But Osemele, for some small cap savings, is an excellent plan B.
5. I think Chicago GM Ryan Pace trading tight end Adam Shaheen—a second-round pick in 2017 who never ascended to even decency, in part because of injury—for a conditional sixth-round pick is another black mark on the Bears’ personnel record. Let’s just say that Bear success in the 2020 season is vital for Pace’s future.
6. I think Antonio Brown, in mid-pandemic, is a hoot. He retired for the third time last Monday (“Mission complete Call God” he said on social media), then reconsidered and wanted back in by Wednesday, beseeching the NFL: “Need an update so I can talk to these teams properly. We’ve got history to make!!” It’s sad, is what it is.
7. I think it’s fine that the Jets got a good haul in return for Jamal Adams. But let’s not throw a parade for the franchise. In the last four years, they’ve finished last, last, last and second-to-last in a weak division (other than New England) and gone 21-43. A big part of that reason is that their building blocks have been awful. Look at the 10 first-round picks from 2010 to 2018, who should have provided a foundation for the future: Kyle Wilson, Muhammad Wilkerson, Quentin Coples, Dee Milliner, Sheldon Richardson, Calvin Pryor, Leonard Williams, Darron Lee, Jamal Adams, Sam Darnold. Only Darnold remains. Disgraceful.
8. I think whether Woody Johnson said what he is alleged to have said about Black people, it’s going to be tough for him to return to his front-facing role as owner of the Jets. This is the passage in the CNN story referring to Johnson, currently the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom:
“In 2018, ahead of an event for Black History Month — commonly marked at U.S. embassies around the world — Johnson appeared agitated and asked if the audience would be ‘a whole bunch of Black people,’ according to one source. Three sources said Johnson questioned why the Black community would want a separate month to celebrate Black history and argued that Black fathers didn’t remain with their families and that was the ‘real challenge.’ “
When Woody Johnson left to serve as the ambassador in the Trump administration, brother Christopher took over. Of course it’s easy to say the Jets should keep Christopher Johnson atop the organization whenever Woody Johnson relinquishes the ambassador job, but it’s more practical as well. You cannot have prospective players—Black and white both—wondering whether the owner of the team said derogatory things about the race of people that accounts for more than 70 percent of the NFL rank-and-file.
9. I think I’d like to give Christopher Johnson truth serum and ask him this question: “Do you still think Adam Gase over Matt Rhule in January 2019 was the right choice for the Jets?”
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Welcome back, baseball. A few thoughts.
b. The cardboard cutout fans are weird. The concept does not work for me.
c. Good for Mookie Betts, a very good person and excellent ballplayer. He’ll prove worthy of the big money in L.A. But it’s a good thing the Red Sox traded him and got something for him, instead of losing him for nothing after this truncated season. When a guy who has never played a game for his new team commits himself for 12 years to the new team and says before the season starts, “I love being here; I love just everything about here,” it’s pretty clear Betts was looking to leave Boston. Which is fine—he earned the right to sign with the team of his preference. But this should eliminate the thought that the Red Sox should have held onto Betts and thrown money at him after the season that he probably wouldn’t have taken, and if he did, it would have handicapped a team that would have had too many high-salaried guys. Who knows? With Boston having a lousy farm system, I’d rather take a shot with salary relief, Alex Verdugo and Jeter Downs—even if the players are iffy.
d. Ten thoughts in a few words: I really missed the box scores. Pored over them for 20 minutes Saturday morning . . . Don’t sound so excited about being the Buffalo Blue Jays, Blue Jays. Tor/Buff should make the playoffs. Imagine playoff baseball in Buffalo . . . For one year, 16 playoff teams is fine. I also like in the first round, the best-of-three series, that all higher-seeded teams get all the games at home. A Bob Costas idea, as I recall, and fair . . . Without injuries, the Yankees look pretty unstoppable. (But there are always injuries.) . . . Most amazing thing about opening weekend: Kyle Hendricks’ complete-game shutout for the Cubs. Who throws nine innings on opening day? Allowed three base-runners. Actually allowed one base-runner—ninth-place-hitter Orlando Arcia was the only Brewer to reach base, on three singles . . . Jose Iglesias bats third for the Orioles. Come on . . . The Red Sox have a $195-million payroll. Starters in first four games: Nathan Eovaldi, Martin Perez, Ryan Weber and (likely) Matt Hall. Yikes . . . Justin Verlander possibly gone for the season. Man, baseball can be so fleeting . . . Retractable roof in Texas now. Normally don’t love those, but when it’s 95 every night in July and August in Arlington, I don’t blame the Rangers . . . Four Marlins down with COVID.
e. Football Story of the Week: Dan Pompei of The Athletic, with the real-life tale of new Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst. Pompei is so good at these stories. He’s so good at all stories. How about reeling the reader in with this lead, of an athlete who failed in professional baseball and now was trying at build a football life in college:
It was Jack Daniel’s. Or Maker’s Mark. Whatever. There was a lot of it. And it was mixed with Xanax, as it had been many times before. Hayden Hurst had recently completed his freshman football season at South Carolina, but still was carrying the yoke of a failed baseball career. Getting high until he blacked out was a part of his routine. After the bars in Columbia closed on Jan. 17, 2016, he somehow drove himself to the parking lot of his apartment. He sat in his car for a minute and put his right hand around the camo grip of a Mossy Oak hunting knife, dug the six-inch blade into his left wrist, and sliced a cut about an inch and a half long.
His next memory is from the following morning. “I woke up handcuffed to a hospital bed wearing jeans from the night before covered in my own blood,” he says.
f. Baseball Story of the Week: Stephanie Apstein of Sports Illustrated on the fireballing pitcher who—for now, anyway—beat the yips. Daniel Bard on making the Rockies:
“Through my struggles I realized life is a lot less organized than we give it credit for. The world is the same way. If this pandemic shows us anything, it’s that it’s all pretty fragile. The stuff that matters is relationships and how you raise your kids. . . . I have to keep reminding myself of that daily. This opportunity with the Rockies is really cool, but it’s not gonna be permanent. Hopefully it lasts five years, but just enjoy it daily.”
g. The yips have been baseball-death to so many: Rick Ankiel, Chuck Knoblauch, Hayden Hurst. Not often you hear of a guy recovering from them. As Bard implies, you never know when the loss of control will come back. But this is a guy who used to throw 97 for Boston, who once struck out five Blue Jays in a row in 2009, and who just lost it . . . Good luck to him.
h. Crazy. Two stories I loved from the past week, both about guys with the yips.
i. Crazier: Bard got the win for Colorado on Saturday in Texas, the Rockies’ first win of the year and Bard’s first big-league win in eight years and two months.
j. Speaking of the yips, how about that first pitch from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former high school shortstop from Brooklyn? He told Ben Cohen of the Wall Street Journal he hadn’t thrown a baseball in years, so he went out Tuesday night to play catch at a D.C. school, and when he woke up Wednesday morning his arm was killing him. “I completely destroyed my arm!” Fauci told Cohen. And when he got to the mound Thursday evening, the catcher looked “a mile away,” and instead of lobbing one, he tried to throw it hard. And, of course, it rolled to the first-base on-deck circle. Bummer.
k. Fitting, though: The 2020 MLB season starting with Anthony Fauci throwing out the first pitch at the home of the World Champions.
l. Podcast of the Week: Sports Uncovered, from NBC Sports, on some of the untold stories of sports. An interesting one about Barret Robbins, the Raiders center who disappeared before the Oakland-Tampa Bay Super Bowl on Jan. 26, 2003. Turns out Robbins was bipolar and manic and was MIA for the game. Years later, found incarcerated in south Florida, Robbins said: “I was on suicide watch. To recover from that, I don’t know that I have.” Depression, he said, was crippling. Sure sounds like it from listening to him in this podcast.
m. The Seattle Kraken. I mean . . . was the Seattle Sockeye Salmon taken?
n. Big trade in my rotisserie league Saturday: I dealt 1B-OF Cody Bellinger and SS Trevor Story for SS Adalberto Mondesi, 3B Nolan Arenado, OF George Springer. No way I won’t have second thoughts about Bellinger, but stolen bases is one of our 12 categories, and this deal should take me from bottom three to top three in the league in steals. Could cripple me elsewhere, though.
o. Kudos, Brian Costello. Not easy to break huge stories in this league with the major network competition, but you had Adams to Seattle first. Nice job.
p. Beernerdness: From our Vermont Trip on vacation, I bring you a great Saison, “Only You,” from Foam Brewers (Burlington, Vermont). This beer was more of a witbier/Saison combo, I thought, and I liked it a lot. It could have been the atmosphere—warm, sunny Friday later afternoon on Lake Champlain (site of Foam Brewers), and it could have been the tart style. Whatever, I had three. It was a fine, fine 90 minutes.
q. Coffeenerdness: Our six-year-old drip coffeemaker had run its course. Couldn’t seem to get the bitterness out of the Italian Roast. So I made the decision one day to end it and to look for a new machine. My brother-in-law, Bob, who likes his coffee very hot and very rich, told me I had to look into the Moccamaster, from The Netherlands. We got the smallish one, and so far, it’s been wonderful. Fast and very hot. What I like is that I don’t have to microwave the coffee after 20 minutes; I puta it in the thermal mug (no lid), and it takes about 35 minutes to sip and then drink the 12 ounces, and it doesn’t get tepid. Quite a good transition.
r. Mike Golic, thanks for all the morning sports wisdom. You’ve been smart and reactionary (when necessary) and a good listen. Appreciate the hours I’ve spent listening to you. Happy trails.
s. And Trey Wingo, whatever the future holds, thanks too for your intelligence, on the TV and on the radio. I have a feeling I’ll be listening to you, somewhere, educating me about football for the rest of my life. Thanks.
t. RIP, Regis Philbin, the man who was on TV for more hours than any American in history. (Thanks, Guinness Book of World Records.) But I’ll always remember him for this.
u. Kramer. What a man. Wrote a coffee table book about coffee tables.
So, Jamal Adams.
You got your way. The moral?
Talent wins. Always.