MINNEAPOLIS - The NFL said it without saying it officially on Thursday: They want as many players as possible vaccinated for COVID-19 before the start of the 2021 regular season.
According to Tom Pelissero with NFL Network, the NFL sent a memo to teams stating that if a game gets canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players, the team with the outbreak will have to forfeit and take a loss for playoff seeding. That team will also be responsible for financial losses, and could be disciplined by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Earlier this offseason, the NFL released a list of protocols for players who are and are not vaccinated.
Players who have received a COVID-19 vaccine can essentially resume operations as normal. They can go about their team facility without a face covering, can eat with teammates who are vaccinated and can travel without restrictions. They also won’t face daily COVID-19 testing, and can attend all team meetings in-person.
Vaccinated players who test positive for COVID-19 during the season and don't show symptoms can return to activities with two negative tests that are 24 hours apart. Plays not vaccinated are subject to a mandatory 10-day isolation period.
Players who are not vaccinated must go through daily COVID-19 testing, including during the team’s bye week, can’t travel with vaccinated teammates and can’t eat with vaccinated teammates on the road. They are also required to attend team meetings virtually, and must wear face coverings at the team facility.
With an 18-game regular season schedule, there’s not a lot of wiggle room for a team to reschedule a game if it gets canceled for COVID-19 reasons.
"We do not anticipate adding a '19th week' to accommodate games that cannot be rescheduled within the current 18 weeks of the regular season," league officials said in a statement.
Thursday's move is not only a push for more players to get vaccinated, but it could create a divide in some locker rooms if some key players on teams have not gotten a COVID-19 vaccine.
A handful of NFL teams are above the vaccination threshold to have loosened restrictions during the season. The Vikings currently are not one of them. During offseason workouts and minicamp, Harrison Smith, Eric Kendricks, Kirk Cousins, Adam Thielen and Sheldon Richardson spoke with reporters. At the time, only Kendricks said he was fully-vaccinated.
Thielen, Richardson and Smith said at the time they had not been vaccinated, and Cousins declined to answer. Mike Zimmer said this offseason players not vaccinated "are going to have a tougher time" due to the NFL’s restrictions.