Opt-out rights linger for 2021, but will anyone do it?

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Press Conference
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The NFL Players Association has secured for players the ability to opt out of the 2021 season, due to any lingering concerns regarding the pandemic. It’s highly unlikely that anyone will actually do it.

Last year, only 67 players opted out. Given the way the season played out, most of those players likely wouldn’t do it again, if they had the chance to do it all over. This year, with dramatically reduced uncertainty as to the virus and the availability of vaccines and a general sense (right or wrong) that it’s all over or at least in the process ending, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will opt out over the pandemic.

Throw in the fact that the stipend for exercising opt-out privilege is limited to players who signed their most recent contract before October 1, 2020 and who opted out in 2020 (or developed a high-risk condition since October 1), and it’s even less likely that anyone will do it.

Then there’s the deadline for making a decision. It’s July 2. To the extent that any player has lingering concerns, it’s unrealistic to expect them to make a firm and final decision by next Friday.

None of it really matters. It will be a shock if anyone opts out this year. And anyone who does so quite possibly will be driven by factors other than supposed concerns regarding the pandemic.

For example, a player who doesn’t want to get vaccinated but who also doesn’t want to deal with the rules that will apply to unvaccinated players could decide to take a year off and continue next year, when things surely will be far closer to normal. Also, if there’s a player who’s seriously considering retirement but doesn’t want to repay bonus money, an opt-out gives him a chance to kick the can for a year. By next year, maybe he’ll get cut.

The right to opt out without a stipend applies to all players who signed their most recent contracts before October 1, 2020. No one else (including most significantly all 2021 free agents and draft picks) can opt out.