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3 looming COVID-19 questions for the NFL

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Three unanswered questions about the NFL’s 2020 plans

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

We’re right in the thick of it. Whether the NFL should or should not be planning to run a season during a global pandemic is irrelevant at this very moment. They’re going for it. Just this past week the NFL began training camp across the league and we saw all kinds of new things, from players arriving to camp wearing masks and taking their temperature using state of the art thermometers to socially-distanced locker rooms with Plexiglas shields separating players. Don’t forget players wearing bracelets with chips in them to monitor contact tracing.

On top of that, there are players all around the league, including Detroit, opting out of playing during the 2020 season. With the deadline to make that decision still a few days off, there’s a chance we could see more players decide to opt out as well.

Then there’s the reserve/COVID-19 list. If a player makes the list it means they either tested positive or were possibly around someone who was infected. The Lions currently have seven players on this list.

It’s clear from everything we’ve learned this week that we know a lot about what the NFL plans to do to combat the virus. But there are still some questions that we don’t know the answers to. Today we’re going to look at some of those.

What does the virus do to athletes?

This is an incredibly hard question to answer because we still know so little about the virus. There are a lot of studies that have found differing answers. We know by now that young, healthy people are considered relatively low-risk when it comes to developing symptoms or death. But some studies—like this one done by Scripps Research in California—suggests that some symptomatic patients could develop lung damage.

It’s hard to nail down exactly what could happen because everyone is different, and that is especially true of the NFL population. You have small, low-weight athletes, and big, bulking offensive lineman. Just a look at the opt-out list tells you that defensive lineman seem to feel they are at a higher risk than their teammates.

If there is indeed lung damage, short term or long term, will that affect a player’s ability to have their usual stamina for a game? For many games? For the rest of their careers? At this point, it’s a pretty scary unknown and a scary risk that these players will make every day.

What happens if a coach is infected?

I feel like this is something that hasn’t even been broached. We know that Saints head coach Sean Payton tested positive early on when the virus first hit the country. But other than him, we haven’t heard of any other coaches being infected. So what happens if a coach gets the virus during the season? What is the NFL’s protocol then?

First of all, you have to believe that they’ll be required to quarantine just like the players. So that means a team could be without a head coach for at least two week’s worth of practices and games.

Does this mean the offensive or defensive coordinator steps in as interim head coach while the head coach is away? What happens if Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell gets it. Who takes over for him? What happens if the whole coaching staff gets it? There will be social distancing measures in place, but these guys are still going to be around each other all day.

What about transactions?

In a normal season, teams often bring in players to have their tires kicked during camp. We also know there is generally a period of time in between camp and the regular season when camp casualties find new teams. What is that going to look like?

Obviously, you’re going to COVID-19 test him like you would any other player. But, still, there has to be some sort of risk there. Again, this guy may come from Texas or Washington or wherever. Travel means additional risk, and as of earlier this week, the NFL hadn’t finalized an on-boarding process for new players, according to Lions general manager Bob Quinn.

“The on-boarding process of claiming a player, trading for a player, signing a free agent during the season, all that stuff—honestly, I don’t have a lot of information on it, because they haven’t told us,” Quinn said. “That’s a whole different protocol than the protocol that’s in place for the players that are currently on your roster.”

Taking in free agents seems simple. But what I’m more curious about is trades. Just thinking about the logistics of a player coming from another place on top of traveling and moving their family during a global pandemic.

Will teams require a negative test from their trade partner before going through with a deal? Normally, the team taking in the player handles the physical. Will the new team now request that the trading team handle the physical first? Will there be two physicals? Will the league oversee each trade and require medical records of some sort before approving the trade? What will this look like?

We’re still in the beginning stages of the 2020 season. So it’s likely all these questions will be answered as we move along. It should be interesting to see how this all works out once games are going down and the season is in full swing... if we actually get to that point.