$.01--The NFL and the NFLPA reached an agreement on safety measures during training camp and team activities on Friday. By a 29-3 vote, NFLPA reps voted to approve the measure that effectively allows training camp to move forward.
Players will start reporting early next week, with some stipulations. Every player must test negative for COVID-19 twice within a 72-hour period and is then subject to daily testing for the first two weeks of training camp. If the positive test rate drops below five percent, the testing changes to every other day.
It’s a gamble for everyone involved. In many NFL markets, notably those in Florida and Texas, COVID-19 infection rates are skyrocketing. The fragility of the NBA’s “bubble” concept will only be exacerbated exponentially by NFL rosters of 80 players all free to go home every night.
Some players are going to test positive. Some stars are certain to be in that group. The virus doesn’t care much for social status, after all. The NFL, like the other sports and really most industries where a return to normalcy is risky, has employees who will go home to small children, to immunocompromised family members, to elderly relatives in their care. There will be issues that develop from this. To think otherwise is a denial of our pride in our American way of life.
The NFL is willing to take the risk while efforting to make playing a full-contact sport as safe on an epidemiological level as it can. Most players seem okay with that risk. Those that don’t can opt-out, as Chiefs starting RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif elected to do, without penalty. I’m hopeful the mitigated risk and the understanding that life must proceed works successfully, that it sets an example that those millions of Americans who are willing to take the calculated risk should be allowed to do just that.
We as a people are inherently distrustful of all government on the pandemic front, and I would argue that’s highly justified. If the NFL -- the most prominent sport and television program in the US -- can show everyone that living in a pandemic need not be the death knell for human interaction and recreational commerce, it’s a great showing of leadership and adaptiveness that can be a model for the country. But if it blows up in their face, the NFL might not recover well. Here’s hoping it goes well enough that we’ll be able to go to games in 2021 with masks optional.
$.02--For many years I’ve referred to the team in Washington as the Ethnic Slurs, or just simply Washington. After decades of protests finally took hold, owner Dan Snyder agreed to drop the offensive old name and logo. Corporate sponsors FedEx and Nike helped bury the old Native American racial slur moniker.
The rebranding isn’t exactly going swimmingly for Snyder and his team. They will be known as the Washington Football Team in 2020. Really.
This is what happens when a clueless owner and his massive ego get in the way. Snyder has had years to prepare for this obvious inevitability, yet when the time came to acquiesce to common sense and decency, Snyder was caught with his pants down. That’s a recurring theme with his poorly-managed organization, which faced incendiary charges from scores of former and current female employees, including cheerleaders, this summer as well.
How can there not have been a plan for what to rename the team?! Even a hypothetical brainstorming session to generate some possible ideas is an almost effortless gesture of rudimentary planning, but Snyder couldn’t even do that?
The rebranding wasn’t going to happen in time for the 2020 season. That’s not an excuse for Snyder and his cronies failing to prepare for such a change. It deepens the embarrassment for what is already widely regarded as one of the worst in professional sports.
As for what to call the team in the future, I like unique nicknames that have some local relevance. We don’t need another professional team in any sport called the Warriors or Tigers. I do like the Generals, but the comedic value of needing to steal the Washington Generals name from the Harlem Globetrotters is probably obvious enough that even Snyder can grasp why it’s a bad idea. The Sentinels is a cool choice and I’d be happy with that. The Red Tape would certainly be appropriate for Washington, though a mascot of a tape dispenser admittedly isn’t a winner. My personal preference comes courtesy of Big Drew from ESPN Radio in Grand Rapids, where I serve as a guest host. Drew’s idea of “The District” is fantastic...which is why it’ll never happen.
$.03--The teams haven’t even reported for duty yet, but already one player finagled his way out of an unfavorable situation. Jamal Adams scorched a lot of earth, much of it on the back of head coach Adam Gase, on his way to forcing a trade from the New York Jets to the Seattle Seahawks.
Adams is one of the brightest young defensive standouts in the game. He was absolutely the most talented player on the Jets, a two-time reigning All-Pro with arguably the best all-around game of any safety in the league after just three seasons. It’s that rocket-like trajectory at such a precocious time that entranced the Seahawks to part with two first-round picks (2021 and 2022), a third-round pick (2021) and a perfectly acceptable starting safety in Bradley McDougald to New York to acquire Adams.
It’s a huge bounty, a larger return than expected for a player who didn’t have nearly the leverage he thought he did. In short, the Jets got very lucky that Seattle was willing to play ball with the demanding Adams. For as outstanding as he is on the field, Adams has proven a world-class headache off it.
Take his final outburst in New York, the proverbial last straw for the Jets. In an interview with the New York Daily News, Adams trashed Gase as a detached, dictatorial doofus, for lack of a better summation. This from a player who is already quite publicly angling for a massive new contract with two years still left on his original rookie deal Adams signed as the team’s first-round pick in 2017.
Those contractual demands will not go away as Adams makes the move to Seattle. Not a chance. The Seahawks seem fine with that, and one of the reasons they are is related to why they’re so infatuated with Adams: they’re terrible at drafting and don’t need to pay extensions to recent first-round picks of their own. It’s an expensive price to pay, but a necessary one for GM John Schneider, head coach Pete Carroll and the Seahawks.
Adams instantly makes the Seahawks the favorite to win the NFC West. While safety isn’t necessarily an impact position, Adams makes up for that by being an outstanding pass rusher and a devastating attack dog against the run. That’s a tool Carroll’s defense has proven it can use quite well, and one that’s been a glaring omission lately. He makes the rest of the defense better. I’m not a believer in the Rams resurgence, and I expect some regression from the amazing 2019 from the 49ers. It’s an all-in move for the Seahawks and they couldn’t have added a better joker to help elevate their chances.
The Jets did not get better, not in 2020 anyway. In dealing away Adams they admitted they’re not ready to compete for the AFC East title. They also acknowledged that Gase won the power struggle with Adams, a dangerous reality for a coach who walked the plank in Miami after a massive player mutiny. It’s more complex than that for New York, of course, but you’d better believe the other Jets players see it that way. The draft bounty will make New York a prime candidate to land the Next Big Thing as Gase’s inevitable replacement after the 2020 season ends.
$.04--In case you haven’t figured it out yet, there will be no major college football in the fall of 2020. It’s not official, of course, but the unofficial undercurrents have been rolling in that direction for months.
The Ivy League started the trend weeks ago by whacking all fall sports for 2020, not just football. Several other FCS leagues have followed suit. The big boys, namely the Big Ten and PAC-12, responded by canceling all non-conference matchups. Major programs are telling longtime season ticketholders to remain in a holding pattern (after collecting the $$, of course!) on potential changes.
College football is a very different situation than professional football. The very nature of the NCAA, of Title IX, of liability for student-athletes, it all converges to make a regular fall football season an impossibility in 2020. Not that the NCAA has shown one iota of useful leadership for programs during the pandemic, but that’s no surprise to anyone who has even 15 minutes of experience with that utterly useless bastion of corrupt hypocrisy.
The athletes want to play. So do the conferences, which is why the Big 12 and the SEC are still desperately clinging to a fall schedule. If only there was a unifying body that could set standards and enforce guidelines consistent across the national collegiate landscape. Oh wait, that’s the exact function of the NCAA. It’s the sole reason the NCAA exists. You’d never know from the scattershot approach and divergent plans for the organization’s prime moneymaker. The NCAA is the modern sports equivalent of a rotary payphone. It’s time to hang up on the worthless organization.
$.05--Normally at this time of the year I’m heading out on the road to training camps. Every year since 2014, I’ve spent at least one week in Berea with the Cleveland Browns training camp and (at least) another week in Allen Park with the Detroit Lions. I’ve been at Colts, Bears and Bengals camps during that time, too.
Not this year. COVID-19 has canceled my annual training camp tour. I won’t be going to any camps this year, not even if the media was fully welcome to attend--and that’s not going to be the reality either.
One of the best parts of attending camp is to get a firsthand look at the rookies, both drafted and free agents. Seeing how well they adjust to professional coaching and expectations, or fail to look ready, is a timeless barometer for those of us in the media. It’s in training camp where I quickly ascertained the Browns were in serious trouble with Freddie Kitchens as head coach a year ago, too.
There won’t be as much championing of certain players from the media or from the fans who pack the training camp stands over the month of public practices. Lions fans tend to attach themselves to one particular undrafted rookie every year, and it often comes from someone who performs well on the very first day of public practice. It will be harder for fans to find their 2020 version of Beau Benzschawel, Andrew Peacock or Jace Billingsley (my money is on safety Bobby Price from Norfolk State). It will be harder for the coaches to find their own keepers, too.
This is not a complaint about lacking media access, far from it. I understand the bigger picture here and I’m more than willing to sacrifice some short-term access for the long-term good of the game. It’s a very strange, unprecedented time we’re all living in. Showing a little accommodation for the greater good is precisely what we need right now in all walks of life. The sooner we embrace that as a nation, the sooner we’ll be better.