As presented to all owners, coaches, and general managers during a conference call last week, the NFL is prepared to penalize teams with a forfeiture of their game for repeated infractions of COVID-19 protocols. League sources stipulated that under a certain set of conditions, the option would come in to play if other measures were exhausted.
The league is operating a series of outcomes for any games in jeopardy of being compromised by positive COVID results. That begins with potentially pushing back the kickoff time, postponing the game for a day or two, or rescheduling it to a later date, the latter ideally involving bye weeks being altered but also perhaps moving the game to the end of the season, though sources maintain that the primary objective remains to play 256 games in a 17-week period. However, with six more teams headed to the bye next week, and four teams already utilizing a bye week, the ability to reshuffle games with relative ease decreases dramatically as we approach midseason.
To that end, sources said, if a team that is found through NFL/NFLPA investigations to have violated COVID policies in an egregious manner, and the ensuing game could best be rescheduled in a manner that put their opponent (a team in good standing regarding COVID compliance) at a competitive disadvantage or would compromise their health and safety, then that game is a candidate for forfeiture. While there has been some conjecture in the media as to what a forfeited game would mean for player salaries, league sources are adamant that they believe their collectively-bargained COVID regulations with the union mandate that no players would be paid for a lost game of any sort.
"We don't play the game and the players don't get paid," one league source said. "It's just like what you saw in baseball. We negotiated an agreement and there were opt-outs and other measures players could take. No play, no pay. That is clear. There is no further negotiation required on that."
The NFLPA may beg to differ should there be a situation where a team was forced to forfeit a game due to COVID violations.
Furthermore, any forfeiture would include potentially historic penalties leveled at that franchise as well, league sources said, with going to such measures seen as a nuclear option of sorts. According to several sources who took part in the NFL call with all owners, GMs and coaches last week, both commissioner Roger Goodell and VP of football operations Troy Vincent made it very clear that "the burden" of cancelling or delaying a game would fall on the club dealing with the rising COVID positives, and the league would do whatever in its power to limit the burden on the other team. Which could, ultimately, result in a forfeit.
"It was very clear that Roger is not taking this lightly at all," said one team executive who took place on the call. "You don't hear language like that (forfeiture) very often. Hopefully it got people's attention, because some of these teams don't seem to be taking it seriously enough at all."