The NFL isn't messing around when it comes to COVID-19. A memo reportedly sent to teams on Thursday has one overarching message for players and staff: get vaccinated or your entire team could pay the price — and the price is very, very high.
The memo, shared by NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, reveals the consequences for teams that experience outbreaks among or caused by unvaccinated players. Of the four major U.S. sports leagues, they are the harshest consequences for teams that experience schedule-altering COVID outbreaks among unvaccinated players.
Outbreaks could mean forfeits, loss of salary
Here's the memo's bottom line: the NFL intends to play all 272 regular season games over 18 weeks, period.
From the memo: "We do not anticipate adding a '19th week' to accommodate games that cannot be rescheduled within the current 18 weeks of the regular season."
While there were a number of COVID-related postponements last season, the memo makes it clear that the NFL is not keen on postponing and rescheduling many (or perhaps any) games in 2021. If a game is postponed and rescheduled due to a COVID outbreak among unvaccinated players, the team with the outbreak is responsible for shouldering any additional financial burden.
If a game cannot be rescheduled within the 18-week season and has to be cancelled due to a COVID outbreak among unvaccinated players, the penalties are serious.
The team with the outbreak will forfeit the game and will be deemed to have played 16 games for purposes of draft, waiver priority, etc.
For playoff seeding, the forfeiting team will take a loss for the cancelled game and the other team will be credited with a win.
The team with the outbreak will be responsible for covering all additional expenses incurred by the other team.
The commissioner has the right to punish the team with the outbreak, especially if the outbreak is due to the failure to follow protocols.
Players on both teams will not be paid for the cancelled game (a policy the NFL and NFLPA already agreed on last season).
However, if a game is cancelled or postponed due to a COVID outbreak among vaccinated players, the memo says the NFL "will attempt to minimize the competitive and economic burden on both participating teams."
Vaccinated players who test positive can return sooner
The memo also outlines the testing and quarantine procedures for vaccinated and unvaccinated players who test positive.
A vaccinated player who tests positive and is asymptomatic will be immediately isolated and subject to contact tracing. They can return to regular activities after they have two negative tests that are 24 hours apart.
An unvaccinated player who tests positive and is asymptomatic will be subject to the exact same rules that were in place for the 2020 season: mandatory isolation for 10 days.
A vaccinated player is not subject to any quarantine if they come into close contact with a person who has COVID-19.
An unvaccinated player is subject to a mandatory five-day quarantine if they come into close contact with a person who has COVID-19.
The NFL's memo makes one thing abundantly clear: players and staff who choose not to get the vaccine are gambling with their team's future, and if they lose, it'll hurt everyone.
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