Source: NFL shortens preseason to just two weeks as league continues to plot its 2020 strategy
The NFL has shortened its 2020 preseason to two games, a source said, part of a larger acclimatization plan for players after an unprecedented virtual offseason program during the coronavirus pandemic.
In essence, the league canceled Weeks 1 and 4 of its original preseason schedule. It had previously canceled its Aug. 8 Hall of Fame game. Most players will still report to training camp on July 28, but the first preseason games won't be played until Aug. 20-24. The second week of preseason games is scheduled for Aug. 27-31. Some re-shuffling of the original preseason schedule for Weeks 2 and 3 are underway, as each team will play one home game and one on the road.
Teams that travel will depart on the day before games. The primary driver for restructuring the preseason was a consensus between the NFL and the NFL Players Association that players will need more time than normal to get in football shape this summer.
No teams were able to practice on the field during the offseason, and many gyms and other conditioning settings have been closed. The NFL's standard preseason has been four games since it was shortened from six games in 1978. It is expected to be cut further when owners activate a provision in the collective bargaining agreement to extend the regular season to 17 games, which they can do as early as 2021.
When that happens, the preseason would shrink to no more than three games for each team. Of more immediate concern, however, is the health of players during training camp in 2020.
The NFL and the NFLPA continue to discuss protocols for a reopening of team facilities, testing programs and other matters related to playing in a pandemic. Sources close to the discussions say there is no hard deadline for a finalizing of protocols, but that if training camps are to start on time (July 28 for all but two teams), there's a sense on both sides that an agreement needs to be reached by the end of next week.
One reason for this is that there's a chance the league will ask players and team personnel to quarantine at home for two weeks before leaving for camp. This doesn't even account for newly imposed rules in states like New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, which are asking people coming from states where coronavirus cases are spiking to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival.
There's also still no final agreement on testing procedures, according to sources, and there has been some discussion about the right way to handle transparency of testing. Some of the newly restarted European soccer leagues, such as the English Premier League and the German Bundesliga, are issuing weekly reports on the results of their testing for the purpose of transparency. There are other reopening leagues around the world that are not. The argument in favor of transparency is that accurate numbers would help personnel in and around the league to accurately assess the risk of continuing to play. And with many different groups of people with varying degrees of risk, it would be important for people making personal decisions to have all of the information they need before doing so.
The NFL and the NFLPA are sharing a database of positive tests, and one source said Wednesday that there were "roughly 40 or 50" positive tests of NFL players or personnel that the league knew about already. NFLPA medical director Thom Mayer issued a warning last month asking players who were organizing private workouts together to stop doing so, but it hasn't dissuaded many high-profile players who continue to gather for workouts anyway. The loss of two preseason games will affect revenue for teams at a time when revenues are already expected to drop significantly if more games have to be canceled or played without fans in the stands (the latter is likely, at least to some degree).
The NFL and the NFLPA are expected to engage in discussions regarding the loss of 2020 revenue and what, if anything, can be done about its potential impact on the 2021 salary cap.
Sources say it's likely that training camp rosters would be reduced from the usual 90 in order to aid distancing measures that will be required at training camps, where teams regularly add lockers to accommodate the additional players. But inseason rosters are likely to be expanded form the usual 53 (or what would be 55 under the new CBA) to account for the likelihood of late-week positive tests that force players to miss games. There's even been discussion about a taxi squad of sorts for officials -- i.e., having one or two on hand in every city on game day in case an official tests positive and needs to be replaced.
ESPN's Dan Graziano contributed to this report.