All NFL veterans will have reported to training camp by Tuesday. For Vikings players that won’t mean much more than a swab up the nose and a virtual meeting with coaches, but there are many questions about how the NFL, and the Vikings, are preparing for the 2020 season amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Q: What will happen Tuesday when players report?
A: Most Vikings players are scheduled to arrive at TCO Performance Center in Eagan on Tuesday, but they won’t be allowed in the building. They’ll walk into a BioReference Laboratories trailer in the parking lot. At one of four stations, they will undergo a nasal swab coronavirus test and be given the option of having an antibody test via blood sample. They’ll go home, await results and participate in virtual meetings with coaches.
Under testing protocols finalized over the weekend, players will need three negative test results in four days before entering team facilities on the fifth day, which would be Saturday. The fifth and sixth days of camp are for physicals and equipment, followed by an eight-day strength and conditioning period.
Q: What happens if someone on the team tests positive for the coronavirus?
A: All players and Vikings employees who test positive or come in close contact with an infected person must be quarantined. Players will be placed on the league’s COVID-19 reserve list, as receiver and first-round draft pick Justin Jefferson and three other rookies were on Monday.
A contact tracing report, from tracking devices worn by everyone while at the team facility, will identify those who came within “close contact,” defined by the league as “within six feet for about 10 minutes” or “direct physical contact during practice.” Those people must also be quarantined and aren’t allowed in the building until testing negative. A 24-hour return from the reserve list is possible if a player is cleared as part of contact tracing.
Q: When can players return after a positive test?
A: Symptomatic cases require at least a 10-day quarantine, including three days after last symptoms. An asymptomatic player can return in five days if he twice tests negative, otherwise he’s out at least 10 days.
Q: Can a coach work remotely after testing positive?
A: No. Quarantine extends to coaches, too, and coaching from isolation is not allowed.
Q: Can players opt out of the season?
A: Yes. A two-tier system separates players with qualified high-risk medical conditions who choose to opt out and those without medical reasons. High-risk players are eligible for a $350,000 stipend. Their contracts would roll over into next year, but they’d still earn an accrued season. High-risk conditions include cancer, asthma, COPD, sickle cell disease and hypertension. If requested, teams must offer new housing to players who live with high-risk family or friends.
A player who opts out voluntarily is eligible for $150,000 if he earned an accrued season in 2019 or is a 2020 draft pick. But the money is an advance against future earnings from the player’s contract.
Players will have seven days after the NFL and NFLPA officially sign all adjustments to the collective bargaining agreement to decide whether to opt out.
Q: Do sick players get paid?
A: Yes, unless the player fell ill because of “high-risk conduct,” which is outlined later. Players who test positive during “entry” tests for camp will have their illness deemed a non-football injury, which allows teams not to pay full salary. Positive results after entry tests will be treated as football-related injuries.
Q: How accurate are these coronavirus tests?
A: The polymerase chain reaction tests are touted as 95% accurate, according to BioReference Laboratories, which is running testing operations for the NFL, NBA and MLS. A 24-hour turnaround is expected for results, according to the NFL.
Q: When do practices start?
A: There’s a slow build to full practices. An eight-day strength and conditioning period, designed to acclimate players after offseason workouts were canceled, allows players onto the field for position drills. The weight room is limited to 15 people. Starting Aug. 12, two-a-day sessions begin in helmets and shorts. Full-padded practices begin Aug. 17.
Week 1 of preseason games would have been Aug. 13-15, but all exhibitions were canceled.
Q: Are there still preseason rosters?
A: Yes, even without a preseason. But all 90 players won’t wear pads. NFL rosters must be trimmed to 80 players by Aug. 16 — a day before the first padded practice — to better accommodate league rules limiting capacity of team facilities to 80 players at once. The regular-season cutdown date to 53 players is Sept. 5. The next day, teams can begin filling practice squads that increased to a maximum of 16 players from 12.
Q: Do players have strict safety guidelines to follow during their personal time?
A: Yes. The NFL has barred players from attending indoor nightclubs, bars, concerts, professional sporting events (other than their own) and house parties with more than 15 people, or churches at more than 25% capacity. Players can be punished, potentially severely, for committing this “high-risk conduct,” including being fined and not paid for games they miss if they test positive.
Q: What protocols are in place for road games?
A: The Vikings, like every other NFL team, need to downsize their traveling party. The NFL is requiring no more than 50% capacity on team buses and an open seat between every person on team flights. When in on road trips, public and private transportation are not allowed, nor is leaving the hotel to go to a restaurant. Players also can’t have hotel visitors or use shared facilities.
Q: Do players get paid if the season is canceled?
A: If the season is canceled before roster cutdowns, veterans who earned a 2019 accrued season, as well as 2020 draft picks, get $250,000 and NFL health insurance. All other players get $50,000. If the season is canceled after roster cutdowns, players on the active roster get $300,000 offset by any base salary earned up to that point. Practice squad players get $100,000 offset by salary earned. All rostered players would get health insurance and get to keep bonuses and salary earned.
Q: The Jets and Giants aren’t allowed to have fans at home games this year. What about the other 30 teams?
A: The NFL has allowed teams to make individual decisions regarding fans at games, based on federal and local guidelines. The league did mandate tarping off the first eight rows of every stadium for distancing purposes, and said any fans allowed would be required to wear masks.
The Vikings warned season-ticket holders in a letter this month of likely “significantly reduced capacity,” if any crowds at all, at U.S. Bank Stadium, giving fans the option to opt out of tickets for a refund or 2021 credit.
Q: How will future salary caps be affected?
A: The league’s revenue shortfall will be spread across the 2021-2024 salary caps, with this year’s cap untouched. The NFL will have a salary floor of $175 million for next season, but it could be higher if revenue exceeds projections. This year’s cap was $198.2 million. Players with less financial security than Kirk Cousins, who has a guaranteed $31 million cap hit next year, will feel the pinch when the Vikings need to balance the books.