SEATTLE – So far in our series reviewing key questions facing the Seahawks entering summer break, the focus has been on what may happen on the field.
But now comes what may be the biggest question of all – will there for sure be a season, and if so, what will it look like?
Until a couple of days ago, the simple answer to those questions was yes, there will be a season of some sort, but no, no one really knows exactly how it will unfold.
But events of the past few days have seemed to throw the question of if there will actually be a season into at least some doubt.
Specifically, 13 players for the University of Texas football team were reported Thursday as testing positive for the COVID-19 virus, coming on the heels of reports earlier in the week of positive tests for Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott and the Houston Texans’ Kareem Jackson, news which arrived as some states, including Florida, were reporting record highs in new cases.
Those reports came as Dr. Anthony Fauci was quoted as saying Thursday it will be “difficult” for the NFL play a season in 2020 without a “bubble-style” approach, something which many wonder is even feasible for something requiring as many people as an NFL game.
But the NFL said in a statement released to ESPN that it was still confident a season will be played.
“Dr. Fauci has identified the important health and safety issues we and the NFL Players Association, together with our joint medical advisors, are addressing to mitigate the health risk to players, coaches, and other essential personnel,” NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills said, according to Dan Graziano of ESPN.com. “We are developing a comprehensive and rapid-result testing program and rigorous protocols that call for a shared responsibility from everyone inside our football ecosystem. This is based on the collective guidance of public health officials, including the White House task force, the CDC, infectious disease experts, and other sports leagues.
“Make no mistake, this is no easy task. We will make adjustments as necessary to meet the public health environment as we prepare to play the 2020 season as scheduled with increased protocols and safety measures for all players, personnel, and attendees. We will be flexible and adaptable in this environment to adjust to the virus as needed.”
Maybe the best description of where things stand right now came in an NFL.com story this week detailing some of what the league is considering to handle testing for COVID-19 and other protocols necessary for hosting training camp and playing games: “The overarching theme of the process is essentially everything remains fluid.”
As has been evident since the impacts of the pandemic began to become clear, the NFL intends to conduct as much business as it possibly can.
So far, the NFL has mostly done so, holding its (virtual) draft as scheduled, signing free agents, hosting a modified offseason program and announcing a full 16-game schedule (though leaving open the option of shortening it, if necessary).
Now comes the much tougher task of playing games, requiring hundreds of people to be in relatively close quarters.
As of this week, the NFL hopes teams will open training camps as scheduled on July 28, the regular season set for Sept. 10.
But as NFL officials stated this week, there may be some “ramp-up time’’ to get players ready for camp and teams used to how to handle what the league hopes is regular testing to keep everybody safe.
That could mean halving the preseason from four games to two – which seems likely – with some thinking there could be no preseason games at all.
But the hope is protocols – such as testing anyone who may contact players on game day a few days prior – will be in place, allowing regular season games to be played.
And the league continues to tinker with options to make for the best games possible. That includes this week floating the idea that practice squads could be expanded to 16 players – they were 10 last year, slated to expand to 12 this season – allowing for an additional pool of players.
As for fans in stands, no one knows for sure, though any rise in cases such as those seen this week raises only more questions.
The NFL has advised teams for months to begin preparing for all possible scenarios – no fans, half-filled or full stadiums.
But with roughly 62% of NFL revenue coming via media contracts, the motivation will be high to get games played and earn that money – and with just one game a week, unlike MLB and NBA, some of the the logistics (namely travel) may be a little bit less complicated.
The Seahawks have been one of the best home teams in the NFL for years – Seattle is 99-45 at home since 2002, second-best in the league behind Green Bay – and not having fans might impact the Hawks more than some others.
But nothing about this year figures to be normal, so trying to predict how teams will be impacted on the field by necessary changes is just a guess.
And to Carroll, games of any type will be better than no games at all.
“Whatever has to happen,” Carroll said earlier this spring. “Everybody needs to be wide open and ready to adapt and all of that, and all aspects of our lives right now and certainly as we approach the season, we are going to have to be prepared. There’s still a great opportunity to show the game to our fans through the media resources. But if that’s the way it is, it will be a different experience. But it can happen.”
Many speculate that the lack of preseason games – and the lack of any on-field work in the offseason so far – might make it harder for rookies drafted in lower rounds, or undrafted free agents, to make rosters, or for rookies to make runs at starting jobs.
“I think the number one thing that it changes is the opportunity for the young guys to show themselves,” Carroll said recently of the potential of fewer, or no, preseason games. “… there just might not be enough time to really give them the chance. So they might be behind in that area a little bit. … Maybe the free agent doesn’t get as many opportunities as he needs.”
But there’s always going to be a need for players who are at the bottom of the pay scale to fill out the final roster spots.
How it will all unfold no one really knows just yet, potentially setting up a season when the mere existence of games themselves might represent the biggest victory of all.
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