COVID-19

Cardinals Owner Michael Bidwill Tests Positive For COVID-19

Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill has tested positive for COVID-19, the team announced.

Bidwill is the first of the NFL owners known to have contracted the coronavirus. He was hospitalized recently. However, the 55-year-old owner’s symptoms have subsided, according to the team. Bidwill is expected to be released from the hospital this weekend.

The team believes a weeks-long stay on the East Coast resulted in Bidwill contracting the virus. Bidwill, who is in a Rhode Island hospital (per Katherine Fitzgerald of the Arizona Republic), has not had any contact with Cardinals coaches or players since the virtual offseason began.

Bidwill joins Sean Payton, Von Miller and Ezekiel Elliott as high-profile NFL figures who have contracted COVID-19. As of mid-June, around 10 teams had seen a positive coronavirus case. Given the spikes occurring in most states since then, that number may well be higher as we enter mid-July. Teams remain on track to report to training camp July 28, though several key issues remain unresolved.

Joining the family-owned organization in 1996, Bidwill has run the Cardinals since 2007. His father, Bill Bidwill, died in October 2019.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Pac-12 To Play Conference-Only Schedule

College football continues to grapple with the coronavirus. A day after the Big Ten became the first Power 5 conference to announce it will only play conference games, the Pac-12 revealed it will also limit its fall sports to conference-only slates.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott recently indicated moving the football season to the spring was a scenario he has discussed with the other commissioners of the Power 5 conferences. For now, the Pac-12 will settle on a format that removes nonconference games from its football season.

The health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports continues to be our number one priority,” Scott said. “Our decisions have and will be guided by science and data, and based upon the trends and indicators over the past days, it has become clear that we need to provide ourselves with maximum flexibility to schedule, and to delay any movement to the next phase of return-to-play activities.”

It would seem the other Power 5 leagues — the ACC, Big 12 and SEC — will need to join the Big Ten and Pac-12 in eliminating nonconference contests from their respective schedules. For the Pac-12, Friday’s decision will delay the start to its fall sports calendar. Mandatory football workouts will be moved back.

The NFL has not announced a change to its July 28 training camp start dates. But with the virus continuing to spread at a record pace in the country, and key issues between the league and the NFLPA unresolved less than two weeks before rookies would report, it is safe to say a delay to players’ report dates is in play.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On NFL’s Plans

With 18 days to go before the projected start of camp, the NFL has made some headway on its plan of attack. Still, there’s much to be determined. The league has yet to finalize the number of exhibition games that will be played or iron out the details of its testing protocols, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Meanwhile, the training camp schedule will hinge on the preseason schedule, so that is also up in the air.

The league has decided that fans will not be allowed to attend training camp practices, though teams will be permitted to have up to two fan events at their stadiums during the preseason if they are able to follow strict protocols. In states where fans are allowed to attend, face coverings will be mandatory, even if the local authorities aren’t making them a requirement.

The NFL believes that it has the authority to make most of these decisions unilaterally, but the union isn’t necessarily on board with that. Recently, NFLPA president J.C. Tretter outlined the union’s stance on a number of issues, including the elimination of the preseason. The NFL is pushing for two preseason games; Tretter wants zero. The league was reportedly dismayed by Tretter’s comments and there figures to be some tough negotiations in the coming days between the two sides.

Beyond the preseason/training camp guidelines, there are also some pretty serious money matters to discuss. The league wants to hold 35% of player salaries in escrow and the NFLPA is, predictably, not okay with that proposal.

Latest On NFL, COVID-19

While the NFL and NFLPA are reportedly close to agreeing to a set of gameday protocols that would nominally attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the two sides still haven’t officially worked out an accord regarding a training camp and preseason schedule. Let’s take a look at the latest as the league and the union work through a variety of health-related issues:

  • NFLPA president J.C. Tretter recently outlined the union’s stance on a number of items, including support for a NFL/NFLPA Joint Committee of doctors-recommended 48-day training camp schedule and the elimination of the preseason (the league prefers to keep two exhibition games in place). While the NFL didn’t publicly comment on Tretter’s piece, one source called the post “very disappointing and contrary to the sense of collaboration going back to the early days of mid-March,” tweets Tom Pelissero of NFL.com.
  • The timing of training camp and the length of the preseason remain key issues. The NFL wanted players to report for camp earlier than the CBA allows in order to fit in a longer schedule, but the union has declined to do so, per Pelissero (Twitter link).
  • The aforementioned Joint Committee recommended one-to-two preseason games, but the league is still standing firm on zero exhibition games, according to Mark Maske of the Washington Post (Twitter link). Appearing on WEEI, NFLPA senior director of player affairs Don Davis questioned why two preseason games would be any safer than four. A source tells Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (Twitter link) that preseason contests are likely to be used a bargaining chip.
  • Amidst the ongoing pandemic, a number of clubs have proactively announced that games will feature limited capacity seating. Of course, those teams are assuming that fans will be allowed to attend contests at all, which is far from a given at this point. So far, the Packers, Chiefs, and Ravens have each announced plans for reduced capacities.

NFL, NFLPA Agree To Certain Game-Day Protocols?

3:21pm: Hold the phone. A source tells Pelissero that the union has not yet agreed to the protocols (Twitter link). “Still a work in progress,” the source said.

1:28pm: The NFL and NFLPA are in agreement on a number of game-day protocols that are designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network tweets, those protocols were issued to all teams last night.

Included in the 11-page document is the ban of on-field fan seating, the ban of media from the locker room, and a provision requiring both teams to travel to the stadium via bus. As Pelissero reports in a separate tweet, teams will not be permitted to have post-game interactions within six feet of each other, so no handshakes and no jersey exchanges.

Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes that players and coaches will not be required to wear masks, though everyone else in the bench area will be so required (Twitter link). While on the bench, all personnel will be required to stay six feet apart to the extent possible (Twitter link via Ben Volin of the Boston Globe), anyone with bench access will be screened before entering the stadium, and anyone who has a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher or who has been exposed to the virus will not be allowed inside (Twitter link via Rapoport).

This comes on the heels of yesterday’s agreement on a club facility protocol for training camp. So while there is still much to be hashed out between the league and the union, they have at least been able to check some items off of their extensive list.

But that doesn’t mean all players are thrilled. Outspoken 49ers CB Richard Sherman took to Twitter to point out the irony of allowing players to participate in a full contact sport while disallowing jersey exchanges, and Texans QB Deshaun Watson took a similar position (Twitter links). Still, the union agreed to the protocol, and plenty of players were concerned about how masks would impact their ability to breathe during games, so the agreement will at least appeal to those players.

As Pelissero details, the protocols will be in effect for any preseason games as well as regular season contests (Twitter link). Volin believes the agreement means that there will definitely be two preseason games, but that sounds like speculation at this point (Twitter link).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Big Ten Announces Conference Only Schedule

The Big Ten is the first Power 5 conference to announce an alteration to its football schedule in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic reports that the Big Ten is expected to announce a conference-only schedule for the fall, adding that the Pac-12 is expected to follow suit.

At first glance, that doesn’t seem like a devastating blow. While certain marquee matchups like Oregon-Ohio State and Wisconsin-Notre Dame will no longer be in the cards, it’s at least somewhat encouraging that the conference is still trying to move forward with attempts to play in the fall. Indeed, following the Ivy League’s announcement that it would postpone its season to the spring, many believed that other conferences would follow suit.

Of course, the nation’s infection rate is not going down like it was expected to, and today’s announcement simply feels like the first of many changes to come. The remaining P5 conferences are expected to make a tentative decision on their schedules by early August.

As of now, the NFL has no plans to postpone the draft to accommodate college teams that might be playing in the spring, but if more conferences follow the Ivy League’s lead, that might change. Given the massive revenue losses that colleges would experience without a football season, they will continue trying to do everything in their power to play, whether that’s in the fall or the spring.

It is worth noting that the games the Big Ten and other P5 schools play against smaller programs are significant sources of income for the smaller schools, so this will be a tough pill for them to swallow.

Ivy League Postpones Football Season

The rumored scenario of the Ivy League moving its football season to the spring could be in the works. The academically renowned coalition announced Wednesday it is postponing its fall sports calendar.

With the information available to us today regarding the continued spread of the virus, we simply do not believe we can create and maintain an environment for intercollegiate athletic competition that meets our requirements for safety and acceptable levels of risk, consistent with the policies that each of our schools is adopting as part of its reopening plans this fall,” the league’s statement read.

Not too many Ivy Leaguers move on to NFL careers, but this decision could have ripple effects for Division I-FBS conferences. The Power 5 programs are not expected to make a final decision on the viability of fall football amid the COVID-19 pandemic for a few weeks, but the Pac-12 has already discussed the prospect of playing in the spring.

This would certainly be a seismic change for the sport, but upon facing massive revenue losses, schools will opt for spring football before cancelling seasons. Should Division I-FBS conferences postpone their seasons until the spring, in hopes the coronavirus will be under control in the country by then, it will affect the NFL. Top prospects will have little offseason time to recover in advance of the 2021 NFL season, and the NFL draft may commence before the college campaign ends. Currently, the NFL is against moving its draft to accommodate college teams playing football in the spring.

NFL, NFLPA At Odds Over Salary Escrow Proposal

In order to mitigate a potential $4B loss in revenue that could arise if the 2020 NFL season is played without fans, the league submitted a proposal to the union whereby 35% of player salaries would be held in escrow, as Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network reports (via Twitter). The union’s response? “Kick rocks,” per NFLPA executive Don Davis (Twitter link via Pelissero).

The union believes that such an escrow agreement must be collectively bargained, and Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic believes the two sides will ultimately agree to a smaller percentage (Twitter link). Kaplan thinks the NFL’s proposal was simply an opening salvo, with the league estimating that the prospective lost revenue will equate to about 35% of the salary cap. Mark Maske of the Washington Post says the escrow proposal could help to avoid a major drop in the 2021 cap, but players are not reacting favorably to the idea thus far (Twitter link).

The union and the league have been arguing over certain safety protocols, the number of preseason games, etc. Now that economics have joined the fray, many have pointed to the protracted battle between Major League Baseball and its union as a harbinger of things to come for the NFL. But to be clear, as Maske tweets, NFL players ultimately would be paid any money that is put into escrow. The only issue — albeit a significant one — is when the money would be paid. Pelissero says the union wants to spread out the damage created by a lost season over the course of the 11-year CBA, and the league wants to do it more quickly (video link).

The league and union have come together on training camp facility protocols, but a lot of work still needs to be done in almost every other aspect of COVID-19 matters, and there is not much time to get these issues resolved.

NFL, NFLPA Agree To Training Camp Facility Protocol

The league and union are still at odds over a number of issues, but at least they have come together on one key point: a club facility protocol for training camp. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports that the two sides are in agreement on a three-tier framework for facility access.

Florio writes that the agreed-upon structure largely mirrors the directive the NFL issued last month. Tier 1 will include players, coaches, trainers, doctors, the strength and conditioning coach, and the head equipment manager. Tier 2 includes non-playing personnel like the GM, and Tier 3 includes employees who perform facility or event services but who do not need to come into contact with Tier 1 personnel. One week before training camp, teams must submit to the league a list of personnel who will fall under each tier, a process that has generated some heated debate within some organizations.

The protocol, of course, emphasizes strict physical distancing requirements, including the reconfiguration of locker rooms to allow six feet between every player. When in the facility, players must be at least six feet apart at all times, and saunas and steam rooms will not be used.

Players were pushing for all team meetings to be held virtually, and the protocol holds that virtual meetings will be held “to the extent possible.” If an in-person meeting is conducted, it should be held outdoors.

The protocol also allows for up to two fan events at a team’s stadium during training camp — contingent upon the state’s regulations — but obviously fans will not be permitted on the field and will not have contact with players.

Importantly, the protocol makes no mention of the frequency or type of COVID-19 testing. Per Florio, that will likely be covered in a separate document.

NFC Notes: Clowney, Cards, Giants, Panthers

A notable development transpired in Jadeveon Clowney‘s near-fourth-month free agency odyssey Tuesday. The Browns’ Olivier Vernon restructure points to them giving the Vernon-Myles Garrett pairing another year and bowing out on Clowney. This would eliminate a high-paying suitor from the sweepstakes. The Seahawks remain in the running for Clowney, but Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times notes they are not going to offer a deal in the $15-$16MM-AAV ballpark like they did earlier this offseason. Seattle’s offer in this neighborhood occurred several weeks ago, but the team is still in need at edge rusher. Clowney now has an offer in hand from the Raiders, but they were viewed as a “distant third.” However, with the Browns perhaps out, the Raiders may have moved up to second. At just more than $13MM in cap space, the Seahawks hold more than the Raiders ($8MM).

Here is the latest from the NFC:

  • Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins lined up as teammates for the first time, with the new Cardinals duo joining several teammates in Texas for a workout. Despite the NFLPA issuing directives for players not to gather for workouts, as the COVID-19 pandemic sets records (with Texas being a hot spot) in recent days. But other teams — most notably the Buccaneers — have seen select personnel conven for pre-training camp work. The Cards’ workout took place nearby where Murray went to high school, just north of Dallas.
  • Seahawks second-round pick Marquise Blair will compete with Bradley McDougald for the team’s starting strong safety job, opposite Quandre Diggs, but Brady Henderson of ESPN.com notes the second-year player is also a candidate to be Seattle’s nickel back. Blair played just 219 snaps as a rookie, though Pete Carroll said he is “very interested” in getting him on the field this season. Ugo Amadi, a 2019 fourth-rounder, will serve as Blair’s primary competition for Seattle’s nickel role. Amadi played just 76 defensive snaps as a rookie.
  • The Giants hired their first female scout, naming Hannah Burnett as their Midlands scout. Burnett’s most notable NFL experience came with the Falcons, for whom she attended pro days and the Combine. In addition to Burnett, the Giants named Marquis Pendleton their northeast area scout and added Nick Williams as an offensive assistant. Pendleton has worked in a different scouting capacity with the team since 2016; Williams spent the past three seasons as Southern Illinois’ wide receivers coach.
  • The Panthers did not renew the contracts of scouts Don Warren and Clyde Powers, Joe Person of The Athletic tweets. Both staffers were Dave Gettleman hires. Warren was a three-time Super Bowl champion as a tight end with the Redskins, for whom he also worked as a scout prior to his Panthers stay.