COVID-19 policy, vaccines could create rift between the NFL and NFLPA this year

As of right now, the NFL is not mandating that its players receive a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus. That would have created a whole new issue when it comes to worker rights and perceived labor violations, especially given the power of the NFLPA.

With that said, there’s some major issues facing the NFL’s relationship with the Players’ Association surrounding the league COVID-19 policy and the entire vaccine backdrop to both the ongoing offseason and the 2021 campaign.

Let’s take this comment from Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane as a recent case study.

“Yeah, I would, because it’d be an advantage,” Beane said, told Matt Parrino of NewYorkUpstate when asked if he’d cut a player for be unvaccinated. “These meetings were not as productive as before because you guys saw in the field house, we had three and four meetings going on. And sometimes you’re talking over each other, but it was the only way to pull it off and be socially distanced. It would be an advantage to cut a player and fall under that umbrella.”

NFL COVID-19 policy
Oct 5, 2020; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; NFL logo on goalpost padding during the game between the Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Right now, there are indications that teams who reach a certain vaccine threshold would be able to limit restrictions when it comes to offseason activities. For example, players would only be required to get tested for the virus one per week rather than daily. Restrictions in terms of in-person meetings during offseason activities would also be limited to an extent.

All of this comes at a time when a ton of NFL teams saw its players opt against taking part in the start of the voluntary offseason workout program late last month. It’s something the NFLPA has pushed through both Executive Director DeMaurice Smith and NFLPA President J.C. Tretter.

Read More: Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks opt to boycott NFL offseason programs due to COVID-19 concerns

Ja’Wuan James situation could complicate things between the NFL and NFLPA

Broncos Ja'Wuan James, NFL and NFLPA issues
Jun 4, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James (70) looks on during mini camp drills at the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse at UCHealth Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

This Denver Broncos starting right tackle suffered a torn Achilles’ earlier in the week during an individual workout away from the team facility. Given that said injury took place outside of the Broncos’ facility, it could end up costing James a cool $20 million.

Broncos players joined others in deciding against in-person workouts to open up the NFL offseason. As for James, he opted out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. NFL rules state that players who suffer injuries outside of the confines of their team’s workout program can be placed on the non-football injury list — eliminating any guaranteed money on said player’s contract. For James, that would be roughly $20 million.

Obviously, the NFLPA would take exception to this. Star players are also speaking out on the possibility that colleagues could see guaranteed cash stripped away from them by opting out of in-person workouts to do their thing individually. That includes Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

As we have seen during the entire COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a new normal that exists. Even as fans likely make their way back to NFL venues this coming season and with a majority of NFL players open to getting vaccinated, gray areas are involved. It could lead to a further rift in what has been a contentious relationship between the NFL and NFLPA over the years.