Current and former Broncos on NFL's return: When it's safe

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As they navigate isolation and social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic, many current and former Denver Broncos have used the same words to describe what is needed for NFL games to be played.

"Whatever is safe."

The NFL continues to formulate a plan about the league's return for the 2020 season with COVID-19 still active. So far teams have had limited staff back to work. Right now, up to 75 people can return to team facilities for each club, but that total does not include coaches or players, although players receiving medical treatment have been allowed in the building.

And many in and around the Broncos' organization wonder what the guidelines will be for teams return to work in the months before a vaccine is available.

"The first thing, you put a team back to work and the six-foot rule is pretty much out the door," former Broncos wide receiver Rod Smith said. "Most guys think they could handle it if they got it, and I feel that way probably -- but nobody wants to bring it home. My daughter has sickle cell [disease], and if I was playing I'd be in a position where I'd have to worry about that every day if I was around everybody."

Broncos pass-rusher Von Miller had COVID-19 in April and spent 17 days away from offseason training. As Miller, who has asthma, said: "It's my job to keep my body in tiptop shape and I feel my body is in tiptop shape, and if I can get this, anybody can get this."

The immediate concerns for players, coaches and other support staff who spend time in the locker room, training room, weight room and practice field is how the day-to-day interactions would work.

"How often am I going to be tested?" asked former Broncos tackle Ryan Harris. "What's the turnaround in those tests, are you going to know the result quickly enough to make a difference? And are we taking tests away from people who need them? I would not want to be a guy who got preferential testing treatment if other people needed it, that athletes and entertainers are getting tested before the majority of the people in the country can be tested as well. But I know my thought would be and the guys I've talked to is how do we make sure we aren't bringing this home."

"Not just players, it's staff, it's everybody, hundreds of people, moving around, all those moving parts," Smith said. "Safety is the No. 1 thing. From a health and safety standpoint ... are you testing every day? Players go home every day, staff goes home, people leave the building and you're not sure who is in contact with everybody once they go home. Policing everybody in every facility. Looks very difficult in my opinion."

Harris offered up training camp as an example. Even as the players' daily schedule begins to fill up with practices and meetings, training camp often becomes a family event. He said, "I've had years when I had 12 family members at my house. Those are the types of things we would all have to make sure we were doing the right things as players that everybody was being careful."

In Miller's case, he said he contracted the virus while honoring the state's stay-at-home measures at the time. "I did everything I was supposed to do, I was here at home," he said.

Like every team in the league, the Broncos had a limited staff return to work late last month. Social distancing was used and employees' temperatures were taken. It would be more difficult to maintain social distancing in the team's current locker room configuration, with lockers right next to each other and players often sitting less than a foot apart.

And then there is the contact of on-field practice.

"In that way I think athletes would have the same worry everybody does, you want to work, you need to work, but this isn't a remote job, and you do not want to bring it home with you," Harris said. "Even if you don't get it as a player because you're physically in top condition, but I played with a lot of guys who had asthma or had a relative or family member at home with some health issues."

Broncos safety Kareem Jackson said in recent weeks, even as the Broncos have gone through a virtual offseason program the players have roundly supported, he would be ready to return to play games this fall if it "was 100% safe for us to go out there. If there is any threat to us being able to contract COVID of any way and spread it to our families or anybody else that we're around, it just doesn't make sense."