NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released COVID-related operating principles for the 2021 season in a memo distributed to clubs today. These operating principles are designed to allow NFL clubs to play a full season in a safe and responsible way and address possible competitive or financial issues fairly. They are intended to help inform decisions, recognizing that, as in 2020, the NFL will need to remain flexible and adapt to possibly changing conditions.
The below principles are based on last season’s experience and follow discussions that the league has had with a number of league committees, medical experts, and outside advisors.
- We will maintain our focus on health and safety, with the well-being of everyone associated with our game remaining our highest priority.
- Nearly all clubs have vaccinated 100 percent of their Tier 1 and 2 staffs. Clubs have put appropriate protocols in place for the relatively few staff who have not been vaccinated, consistent with the guidance given last April. As of today, more than 75 percent of players are in the process of being vaccinated, and more than half the clubs have vaccination rates greater than 80 percent of their players.
- We know that vaccines are safe and effective and are the best step anyone can take to be safe from the coronavirus. The vaccines continue to provide strong immunity against variants of the coronavirus, including the Delta variant. Even with recent increases, new cases remain far below the peak levels of earlier this year. Both the CDC and major hospital systems throughout the country have reported that 97 percent or more of the new cases and virtually all hospitalizations are seen in unvaccinated individuals. While there have been “breakthrough” infections – cases where a vaccinated individual has been infected – those cases tend to be mild and people recover from the infection relatively quickly.
- If a vaccinated person tests positive and is asymptomatic, he or she will be isolated and contact tracing will promptly occur. The positive individual will be permitted to return to duty after two negative tests at least 24-hours apart and will thereafter be tested every two weeks or as directed by the medical staffs. Vaccinated individuals will not be subject to quarantine as a result of close contact with an infected person.
- If an unvaccinated person tests positive, the protocols from 2020 will remain in effect. The person will be isolated for a period of 10 days and will then be permitted to return to duty if asymptomatic. Unvaccinated individuals will continue to be subject to a five-day quarantine period if they have close contact with an infected individual.
- Persons who had a previous Covid infection will be considered fully vaccinated 14 days after they have had at least one dose of an approved vaccine.
- We will remain in close contact with medical and public health authorities at all levels of government, as well as with our own medical advisors and the NFLPA, a
- The league will make every reasonable effort, consistent with underlying health and safety principles, to complete the full 272-game regular season within the current 18 weeks and all postseason games as scheduled, in a safe and responsible way. This is grounded in a commitment to players, coaches, fans, and business partners. We do not 3 anticipate adding a “19th week” to accommodate games that cannot be rescheduled within the current 18 weeks of the regular season.
- Every club is obligated under the Constitution and Bylaws to have its team ready to play at the scheduled time and place. A failure to do so is deemed conduct detrimental. There is no right to postpone a game. Postponements will only occur if required by government authorities, medical experts, or at the Commissioner’s discretion.
- In light of the substantial roster flexibility in place for the 2021 season, absent medical considerations or government directives, games will not be postponed or rescheduled simply to avoid roster issues caused by injury or illness affecting multiple players, even within a position group.
- If a game is cancelled/postponed because a club cannot play due to a Covid spike among or resulting from its non-vaccinated players/staff, then the burden of the cancellation or delay will fall on the club experiencing the Covid infection. We will seek to minimize the burden on the opposing club or clubs. If a club cannot play due to a Covid spike in vaccinated individuals, we will attempt to minimize the competitive and economic burden on both participating teams.
- Whether to reschedule a postponed game will be dependent on health and safety reasons at the recommendation of medical experts as well as considerations of stadium availability, schedule integrity, fan convenience, and other appropriate matters.
- If a game cannot be rescheduled within the current 18-week schedule and is cancelled due to a Covid outbreak among non-vaccinated players on one of the competing teams, the club with the outbreak will forfeit the contest and will be deemed to have played 16 games for purposes of draft, waiver priority, etc. For the purposes of playoff seeding, the forfeiting team will be credited with a loss and the other team will be credited with a win.