I don’t really know what’s coming the next six months. And neither do you. So I think it’s pretty silly for anyone to be talking about absolutes right now. With that, here we go, with the first MAQB of training camp 2020 …
• Because of the Marlins’ outbreak, the national sports discussion turned on Monday to bubble-vs.-no bubble. Baseball doesn’t have one. Basketball and hockey do. So where does that leave the NFL? Back in the spring, as it became clear that offseason workouts would be wiped out, all options were being discussed. I’m told the players were against the bubble idea then, as was NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills. And teams I talked to on Monday about the idea were pretty skeptical that any such concept would get off the ground anyway. Why? Football is far different from the other sports. To run a training camp practice, a team needs a minimum of 150 people on hand, and the figure is still well over 100 after rosters are cut down. So for the whole league to be in a bubble, you’re probably talking in excess of 4,000 people minimum—and that’d be for over six months. Could you go to an Olympic-style group-play format, maybe, and create four pods? Maybe. But that’s still over 1,000 people per bubble, not to mention the number of NFL-caliber fields you’d need for the players (you can lay down a basketball court almost anywhere, as the NBA has proven) in a central location. And that’s without even getting to matter of injuries, which would always require players being shuttled on to and off of rosters. So in the end, would a bubble solve a lot of the issues the NFL is facing? Yup, it sure would. But you’d have to build one (or more than one) first, and the sport just isn’t conducive to that.
• The other thing the baseball fiasco does for football—it puts the teams’ travel protocols under the spotlight. So I obtained a copy of the rules the NFL has given clubs, and they are extensive. And I figured I’d give you five highlights here to illustrate that.
1) Only Tier 1 and Tier 2 personnel can be part of the traveling party, which is limited to 110 people.
2) Those in the traveling party “shall not take separate public (e.g. buses, subways) or private (e.g., taxis, Uber, Lyft) transportation on the road.”
3) All meals have to be served in the hotel, and “the traveling party is not permitted to leave the hotel to eat or otherwise use any restaurants (in hotel or otherwise) open to the public. (You can order room service or Uber Eats, Grubhub, etc.)
4) “The traveling party may not utilize the fitness center, pool, sauna or other shared hotel facilities during their stay at the hotel, unless such areas have been appropriately disinfected, are closed to other hotel patrons, and only open to the club traveling party.” (So if the PR guy wants to hit the treadmill … tough luck.)
5) “Hotel must make private entrances/exits available to the traveling party whenever possible. Hotels must also provide a private check-in area for the traveling party.”
There’s plenty more along these lines (players and coaches will eat separately from the rest of the traveling party, etc.), and this one was interesting to me too: “Hotels should increase the ventilation rates throughout the hotel and/or increase outdoor air that circulates into the system.” So yeah, the league thought of pretty much everything here.
• And I do think the NFL deserves credit for creating such a comprehensive plan. But, as Bill O’Brien detailed in this morning’s MMQB column, and as many other coaches are harping to their players, all this stuff is only works if players are just as responsible outside the facility as the teams are trying to be in them. Even then, there are plenty of wild cards in this deck—consider that some schools will be back in session in two weeks, which means just by going home to their families coaches and players could be exposed. Again, I think the NFL and teams are doing their best, but there’s still a truckload of uncertainty sitting in front of 345 Park Avenue.
• One loose end that the Marlins’ situation did raise among teams—the league still hasn’t come up with a firm policy of shutting teams down or games being forfeited. Would 20 players/coaches getting it necessitate a shutdown? 25? 30? That’s a question that’s being asked by a lot of people I’ve talked to.
• The Vikings temporarily losing head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman may not seem like a big deal to you. I promise, though, to the organization, having the long-time staple out with a positive COVID-19 test is a massive deal. How am I so sure of that? Last month, I asked ex-Patriots team doctor Thomas Gill who the important people for each team will be in making all this work. His answer: “Without a doubt, the most important guy in every building is gonna be the head athletic trainer. Period. And the Patriots are lucky with Jim Whelan, he’s the best in the business. But they’re the ones. It’s like during training camp, when they have to make sure every player’s getting weighed before and after every practice to make sure they’re not losing too much water, they’re the ones that’ll be keeping track of everybody’s temperature, everybody’s symptoms, everybody’s distancing, everybody’s masks. One hundred percent, it’s the head athletic trainer. I don’t envy those guys. They had almost an unperformable job beforehand, it is gonna be a really huge challenge moving forward. At the end of the day, they’re the ones that are gonna have to enforce all the rules, nobody else. … They’re without a doubt the most important guys in the building.” Gill also suggested that, just for this year, teams would probably have to add support staff to help their trainers. So imagine losing your head guy on the eve of camp …
• Alright, on to football … Good on the Niners for giving RB Raheem Mostert a little sweetener on his contract for 2020—and, really, if he does wind up hitting the added incentives then the team will probably be happy to write him those checks for it. His $2.575 million base, $50,000 workout bonus and $250,000 in per-game roster bonuses for 2020 remain intact. He gets a $250,000 signing bonus on top of that now (which fulfills a promise to give him an incentive he just missed in 2019), and his $1.25 million in incentives have been replaced by $2.25 million in incentives, which are tiered at four levels (773, 850, 950 and 1,050 rushing yards). So if he hits 1,050 rushing yards, he’ll wind up with $2.5 million on top of the $2.875 million he was set to make, and the Niners will have gotten themselves a pretty productive year out of the 28-year-old.
• Jets GM Joe Douglas went to bat for his coach, Adam Gase, during a conference call on Monday, telling the team’s beat writers, “I especially believe in Coach Gase. I think he’s the right person to lead this team.” But there’s no question that Jamal Adams’s incendiary comments will shine a light on the coach’s hold on his locker room in the coming weeks, as Gase tries to build on a strong 6-2 finish to the 2019 season.
• Washington DE Caleb Brantley became the first player to opt out under the high-risk category—which entitles him to a larger stipend than the voluntary opt-outs ($350,000 vs. $150,000), as well as an accrued season toward free agency and all benefits. And while we’re there, Vikings first-round pick Justin Jefferson became the highest-profile player thus far to land on the COVID-19 reserve list.
• Patriots FB Danny Vitale opting out is interesting, given how Josh McDaniels has valued the position in his offense the last few years. In fact, having James Develin on the roster enabled the package that New England used on the game-winning drive in the Super Bowl two years ago—the team went 22-personnel (two backs, two tight ends) to force the Rams’ base defense onto the field, then threw all over the slower L.A. group on the way to the end zone (which we detailed in that week’s MMQB column). So now what? New England liked the versatility of third-round tight end Dalton Keene ahead of the draft, so maybe he, or fellow rookie tight end Devin Asiasi, can line up in the backfield some.
• Big credit to Drew Brees, who came through for Louisiana again with another $5 million donation. Some people may remember his offseason for his comments on the national anthem. But, honestly, the guy’s given eight figures now to his community in a time of need, and I’d venture to say the impact of that will be farther-reaching.
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