Our world has taken on a different look since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and professional football was never going to be immune to that. On Monday morning, commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to all 32 teams obtained by CBSSports.com that revealed the most detailed plans yet for what a player return to team facilities can and will look like.
The guidelines, agreed upon by the NFL and the NFL Players Association, detail a new normal for players, coach and staff that all teams must have in place before players are back on the field.
Though the memo does not set any hard dates for a player return, the focus for resuming on-field activities remains on training camp, as I've been reporting.
Here's what players can expect when they pull up to their team's facilities to begin the 2020 season.
Players and coaches will likely have a designated door for entry into the facility. There they may have their temperature checked before being asked a series of questions.
• Have you been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19?
• Are you experiencing a cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat?
• Have you had a fever (temperature above 100.4) in the last 48 hours?
• Have you had new loss of taste and/or smell?
• Have you had vomiting or diarrhea in the last 24 hours?
While inside the facilities, players will be required to wear a mask during all non-football related activities. Certain hallways will be designated as one-way, and it's probable that other hallways will have tape on the floors indicating which side to travel. Teams must, at all times, have at least a two-week supply of PPE on hand.
High-touch surfaces like elevator buttons and security keypads must be sanitized at least three times a day with hospital-grade disinfectant. Team meeting rooms also have to be disinfected after each use.
Because of the need for physical distancing, teams are highly encouraged to hold virtual meetings. But if meetings must take place in person, the NFL is asking teams to hold them outdoors and have each player wear a mask.
When players use the equipment room, no more than 15 players can gather at a time. The strength and conditioning workouts will have to be staggered. Usually, position groups work out together, and that will be impossible for certain positions when teams have a 90-man roster. A team's director of football operations will have to work closely with the strength coach to manage that schedule.
Also, players will have to bring their own chalk. The communal chalk bucket will be no more under these protocols. Strength coaches must wear masks, but they won't be required for players working out—only "strongly encouraged."
Perhaps the greatest changes will be felt in the locker room. Teams "must reconfigure locker rooms to permit six feet of space between each other player … where possible." This is going to take a lot of creativity for each team.
Most teams use small, temporary lockers during training camp in addition to what they have installed in order to satisfy a team of 90 players. Sometimes those lockers are in the middle of a locker room or off to the side. Per this memo, that won't be allowed where possible.
I anticipate some teams will have the offense in one locker room and the defense in another. Even that may not be enough, though. This will become less an issue when rosters are cut for the regular season, but most locker rooms still cannot support a 53-man roster plus a 12-man practice squad while maintaining six feet of space. It would see separate locker rooms for one team would have to continue into the regular season, based on these protocols.
It's important to note that the NFL and players union is still working on isolation and risk mitigation protocols for on-field activity. The memo does not require masks to be worn during practice, and there's language in the protocols that make it seem to me as though that will not be a requirement going forward. Football is obviously a contact sport that is incompatible with physical distancing, and the league is not ignorant to that.
Helmets, shoulder pads, mouthpieces, uniforms and gloves must all be cleaned after each practice. Field equipment must be cleaned after each practice and, if a team practices on field turf, that field turf must also be disinfected after each practice, according to the protocols.
There will be no towel sharing, meaning each player must use his own individual towel throughout practice. Further, there will be no water bottle sharing or using a shared water dispenser. Individual bottles or disposable cups will be used at practice.
This is just part of what NFL players can expect once they report to training camp in mid-July. The league notes "these protocols will change as medical and scientific knowledge of the disease continues to grow."
This signals the start of the return to football in 2020, and it's just the beginning.