By Tuesday, August 17, at 4:00 p.m. ET, all teams must trim their rosters from 90 to 85. Some teams have already started the process of eliminating the last five players on the roster.
With vaccination rates slowly increasing since the start of camp, what will cutting five players do to those numbers? Presumably, most of the players who are fully aware that they’re fighting for one of the 53 roster spots or 16 practice-squad assignments have gotten vaccinated, knowing that if they didn’t they had no chance at all of earning a job come September.
So if, for example, a team currently has 77 of 90 players who have received the vaccine, that’s a rate of 85.5 percent. If the five players who are released by Tuesday are vaccinated, that means 72 of 85 will be vaccinated come Wednesday. Which will drop the rate to 84.7 percent.
By next Tuesday, when another five are released from the bottom of the roster (and assuming they’re all vaccinated in order to enhance their chances of making the team), that’s 67 of 80. The rate will fall to 83.75 percent.
The following Tuesday, the biggest plunge will happen, all the way to 53. Assuming that only vaccinated players go, that will leave 40 vaccinated players. The rate will then drop to 75 percent. (Presumably, however, some unvaccinated players will get cut, either because they don’t realize they’re in danger of not making the team if unvaccinated or because they won’t get vaccinated even if they know they’re at risk.)
But here’s the kicker. With 16-man practice squads, and assuming that teams will hire only vaccinated players to fill those spots, the total roster will then increase to 69, and the number of vaccinated players will move to 56. That will result in a final rate, as of Week One, of 81.1 percent.
Under those numbers, the coming roster contraction to 53 and expansion to 69 total players on the team will result in a 4.4-percent drop in vaccine rate. And while this is hypothetical, it’s likely for most teams that the vaccination rates will fall over the next two weeks. Players who are aware of their tenuous status are far more likely to be vaccinated, and the unvaccinated players are far more likely to be players who believe their positions on the final roster are secure.
Finally, let’s broaden the lens on this. As of last Wednesday, 91.7 percent of all players had gotten at least one dose of a vaccine. That’s 2,641 of the league-wide 90-man rosters, which currently adds up to 2,880 total players. If — and this is a big if — the ultimate reduction in players from 90 to 69 results exclusively in vaccinated players not landing jobs, the league-wide rate will fall to 89.1 percent.
Again, some unvaccinated players will get cut. Despite the rules prohibiting players from being cut based on vaccine status, it will happen, because there’s a clear strategic advantage to having as many vaccinated players as possible. Regardless, the progress that the league steadily has made when it comes to nudging the vaccination rates higher and higher will soon be reversed as 21 players exit each team and as the vast majority of them likely will have been vaccinated.