Thursday’s jaw-dropping memo from the league office to all teams had the intended purpose, in our view, of persuading unvaccinated players to become vaccinated. As a practical matter, the memo also persuades teams to cut players who still refuse to get vaccinated.
Whether it’s the amount of time that unvaccinated players automatically are kept from playing (at least 10 days), the possibility of forfeitures arising only from outbreaks happening among unvaccinated players, the expenses incurred if a game is postponed or canceled due to an outbreak among unvaccinated players, the $400,000-per-team allowance for testing costs (unvaccinated players get tested every single day), the inescapable messages from Thursday’s memo is that teams will find themselves in better competitive and financial shape if in the process of cutting from 90 players to 53 they simply dump as many unvaccinated players as possible.
So how does the league reconcile these clear incentives to dump unvaccinated players with the rule that prohibits cutting players for not being vaccinated?
“I don’t see the two tied directly together,” NFL Chief Football Administrative Officer Dawn Aponte said during a Friday conference call with reporters. “I think there are protocols put in place for those individuals,” Aponte said regarding the unvaccinated players, adding that the COVID protocols don’t restrict their ability to perform, and that the COVID protocols weren’t put in place for those purposes.
Still, the simple fact that an outbreak among unvaccinated players can trigger a forfeit while an outbreak among vaccinated players can’t provides a clear and logical reason for teams to choose vaccinated players over unvaccinated players. While some unvaccinated players will be too good (or too expensive) to cut, plenty won’t. And Thursday’s memo necessarily makes vaccination status one of the various factors to be considered when splitting hairs while trimming the roster, if it wasn’t already.
And so it will be interesting to see if a player who gets cut claims that he would have gotten a roster spot if he’d been vaccinated, and if he then files a grievance. As noted earlier today, Thursday’s memo quite possibly becomes Exhibit A if/when a grievance is filed.