The fact that NFL players, by the handful, are opting out of the 2020 season should come as no surprise. Almost nothing should at this point. Okay, if Patrick Mahomes, fresh off signing his record contract, were to decide not to play, or 23-year old reigning MVP Lamar Jackson, that might come as a stunner. But if either were to have a pregnant girlfriend or loved one living with them or if either were to discover he harbored a medical condition that makes him more vulnerable to COVID-19, then any pretense of being slack-jawed should be dropped. Bottom line -- every player has a medical, family and business decision to make when it comes to whether or not it makes sense for him to participate in this season.
It is, frankly, none of our business as to why anyone opts to take a small stipend (which will be paid back in 2021) rather than submit himself to all of the unknowns that will come with attempting to play professional football on a daily (practice) and then weekly (games) basis in 2020. Each man has his own mental calculus to conduct, weighing in risks of getting hurt, how much trust he has in the efficacy of testing, how realistic he believes it is to maintain operations with 150 or more people in a team headquarters, daily, at a time when large gatherings are strongly discouraged.
What is the landscape via COVID like in the town in which that player resides, and is staying home with his family in their best interest? What is it like in the city in which he will be playing and practicing? Is he considering expanding his family? Do those he lives with have conditions that make them more vulnerable? How much do I have saved? How much have can I earn? How realistic is the chance that my team wins anything of significance this season? We all stop being paid if/when the league shuts down due to COVID, so what is it worth subjecting myself to for a quarter, or half, of my paycheck?
For anyone who makes his living around the line of scrimmage or plays a position in which contact is constant, the risks are even higher. Expect several more offensive and defensive linemen to opt out. Many are considering it, given that those over 300 pounds and diabetic are at greater risk with this virus. The rates of infection are higher in the African American community. Anyone with a history of asthma or respiratory issues will undoubtedly consult with their doctor before making such a huge decision.
The opt-outs were collectively bargained for a reason. Keep in mind that no one is gaming the system. There is nothing to be gained financially by staying away from the NFL in 2021; the stipends are repaid, contracts toll so no one gets closer to free agency, and, duh, the player gets a year older in a sport where youth is everything.
"I've only had one guy opt out and I don't think any more of my clients are," said one of the most successful agents in the NFL. "But I totally understand it and have talked to my guys about it. It's a personal decision we all need to respect. Every situation is individual and at the end of the day, the big question is how many games are we really going to end up playing, anyway."
Players don't owe anyone an explanation. Some just might not want to feel like a guinea pig in what may feel to them like a bizarre sociological/public health/entertainment experiment. Some may feel that they have sufficient financial security and enough rings in the bank that they can sit this one out and resume their craft in 2021, with the hope of a vaccine by then. Some just might not be comfortable with having a teammate or opponent sweat and breathe all over them for 90 minutes a day at practice and all afternoon/evening on game day. It is their singular choice.
This was never going to be anything close to a normal season, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on rosters and games and practice time across every other sport, and the NFL will be no different. Will every team have a half dozen or more players opt-out like the Patriots? No. Will some team have double-digit players do so? It's hardly out of the question.
Browns timed Garrett deal perfectly
The Browns, like most in the NFL, knew that Joey Bosa was not playing a snap for the Chargers this season without a new deal that made him the highest-paid defensive player in the history of the game. This was a fairly open secret throughout the game, with Bosa's camp making it clear a while back that there were no hometown discounts coming and that Bosa has more than proven his worth on his rookie deal to this point. It was a topic of conversation in the Chargers' locker room going back deep into 2019, and rival GMs and cap guys have been waiting for this shoe to drop since last season concluded.
LA was going to pay, and handsomely. It just remained to be seen at precisely which pricepoint. Given that Bosa was going to reshape the market for the best defensive players in the game, and with Myles Garrett coming off a suspension-shortened season, the prospect of buying low, relatively speaking, always made sense for Cleveland GM Andrew Berry. And by locking up Garrett, still just 25, a few weeks back, he did just that.
The Browns got Garrett as a fixed cost at $25 million per year, with a true guarantee of $50 million. With Bosa just securing over $100M in injury guarantees, and a true guarantee of $78M at signing, that's mission accomplished for Cleveland. Garrett has very similar per-game sack totals Bosa and he has Defensive MVP potential. Bosa has had injury-plagued issues, appearing in 51 of a possible 64 games through four seasons, but has amassed an impressive 40 sacks in that span, reaching double-digit totals three times. Garrett has been durable and has played just three seasons, already tallying 30.5 sacks in 37 games. So while the Browns could have waited, doing this deal now before Bosa, and before what might be a 15-sack season for Garrett makes a ton of sense.
Barring injury, there is every reason to anticipate both players living up to these lofty paydays. The Browns, however, are doing so for millions less for a player with fewer injuries and a little less tread on his tires. Garrett was seen as someone with pristine character prior to his personal fouls and suspension last season, and should that prove an anomaly as most expect, the Browns are in a position to benefit especially once the salary cap and revenues soar again post-pandemic.
We haven't heard the last from Aaron Rodgers
I've been telling you guys since the moment that Jordan Love was selected by the Packers that this was going to be a problem. Aaron Rodgers is the ultimate sponge, a deep thinker who is constantly evaluating everything going on around him, and no amount of revisionist history or double talk was going to change that. He saw this move, trading up to land a player who most teams did not have a first-round grade on, for precisely what it was: a moratorium of Rodgers's ability to end his career in Green Bay and ticking clock -- at two years max -- on his days as a Packer.
His latest comments, in an interview for a podcast on The Ringer, conveyed this in the most certain terms yet. Rodgers made the case, cooly and calmly -- in the manner of a polished litigator -- about all of the many receivers the Packers could have drafted in that spot, given their need their and the generational nature of this draft. He detailed his shock, four fingers of tequila deep, at the selection of Love and then the awkward position that put the future Hall of Famer in. Oh yeah, and he threw in the fact that it was his marketing agent, and not the Packers, who notified him of the selection.
Hmm. Not good. Rodgers detailed, at length, how this was nothing like when he was selected with Brett Favre still on the roster; Rodgers was neck and neck as the top QB in the class among evaluators and truly fell yet now Green Bay leaped up to take a player without that profile. Consider this a rebuttal, and checkmate at that, to the ramblings of second-year coach Matt LaFleur from a few months back about the Packers just sort of stumbling into a scenario where only Love made sense with this pick. Good luck gaslighting the guy who sees and hears everything.
And, for good measure, Rodgers made it clear he thought this 14-2 team was Super Bowl worthy and missing just a few pieces, whereas the 10-6 Packers team he was drafted onto was a little bit fugazi when it came to true Lombardi hopes. Problem is, I, like many in the league, do not believe last year's Packers team was as good as its record.
The Love trade will define this regime forever, and I promise you, if you think Rodgers was paying close attention during the draft, you haven't seen anything yet. He will be watching Love like a hawk, seeing how he sizes up mentally and physically. Does the guy they drafted to replace me have the goods? Is he just a guy? Can I see what they saw? Are they nuts?
With no offseason and no regular time with teammates and Packers pass catchers, Love is at a distinct disadvantage in his development already. How Rodgers answers the above questions, in his own mind, will be fascinating and could determine whether he is in fact there two more years, or if he might want to play elsewhere even sooner.