Roger Goodell expects much of the 2020 virtual offseason program to remain for 2021. With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, the longtime commissioner foresees most of the components of last year’s offseason to be brought back.
“We anticipate that a lot of the things that we did last year with respect to training camps, with respect to the offseason will be done again,” Goodell said Thursday, via the Houston Chronicle. “Virtual is going to be part of our life for the long term.
“I think we learned, and the coaches learned to players learned, that it was actually a very positive way to install offenses and to work in the offseason. I don’t know when normal will occur. I don’t know if normal will occur again.”
The pandemic forced the NFL to cancel all in-person activities — from free agency visits to OTAs to minicamps — through training camp, which preceded a canceled preseason. The league and the NFLPA engaged in offseason protocol discussions for weeks, then proceeded to negotiate training camp policies and a pandemic-era salary cap for months. They will do so again this year, with union executive director DeMaurice Smith indicating the sides will likely organize the offseason program in March or April (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero).
As of now, the draft remains scheduled to be an in-person event in Cleveland, but with the combine already being split into limited-attendance regional events, it is certainly not hard to envision the draft going virtual for a second straight year.
While the coronavirus vaccine effort remains in the early stages, the NFL will face an interesting hurdle in the near future. The league cannot unilaterally force players to be vaccinated once they become eligible, Pelissero notes. A vaccine policy would need to also be collectively bargained. Goodell and Smith have said they will not skip the line by having players vaccinated before their tier becomes eligible. This led Smith to predict an all-virtual 2021 offseason (Twitter link).
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.