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NFL offers to abandon preseason games, but 49ers may still have delayed start to season

© Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

As training camp draws nearer, the NFL and NFL Players Association continue to negotiate over a plethora of issues, from testing, workout protocols, salary cap adjustments in light of likely losses and preseason games. The last issue on that list might well be expunged.

According to multiple reports, the NFL has offered to get rid of preseason games entirely. The league initially cut the spate from four games to two, but players have long been calling for the league to remove them all, viewing them an unnecessary risk amidst the coronavirus pandemic, and the recommendations from NFL doctors to have a long lead-up to the regular season. And unlike other leagues like the NBA and MLS, the NFL won’t be operating under a so-called bubble.

As of yet, though, nothing has been agreed to, and the NFL may well be using this as leverage in negotiations with players to get outsized concessions on their part. There is, however, the additional factor that preseason games are just about impossible from a logistical standpoint, if the NFL is to follow the recommendations of the Joint Committee of doctors formed by the NFL and NFLPA. That is due to the time it will take to test players and the NFL’s start date, which is September 10 for the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs (a Thursday night game) and September 13 for most of the rest of the league.

Per NFLPA president JC Tretter on a Pro Football Writers Association conference call last Thursday, that Joint Committee has made the following recommendations for players in the lead-up to the season:

  • Begin with 21 days of strength and conditioning
  • Followed by 10 days of non-contact football
  • Followed by 14 days of padded, contact practice

The NFL won’t be able to actually open up training camp until August 1 at the earliest, given the news earlier on Monday that testing will begin July 28, and players will need two consecutive negative tests to enter team facilities. But to get to that second test, they will have to wait another two days, testing again on July 31. The league has said its tests will take about 24 hours for results, so at earliest, training camps can begin in earnest on August 1, but potentially later, depending on if those results are delayed.

If you do the math, not only does this leave zero time for preseason games, but it pushes the NFL schedule past its proposed start date. If those recommendations are followed to the letter, it would be a July 15 start date for the season. The 49ers’ season opener, against the Arizona Cardinals, is July 13. Either the NFL will have to ignore those recommendations, amend them, or push back the start of the season.

This is all without the consideration of the fact that if players test positive during camp, and other players have to self-isolate, those teams lose time, not to mention the potentially devastating long-term impacts of the coronavirus on the brain and respiratory system, even for young, healthy people like NFL players. There will always be the possibility of positive tests the day before a game. What happens if an entire team has to quarantine?

These are questions, among many, that still need answers.


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