The NFL is sticking to its guns with the 2021 regular season slated to get going here in almost two weeks. Days after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave its full approval for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, the league is not going to make said vaccine mandatory for players.
A source close to the situation told NBC Sports’ Mike Florio that there’s no chance mandatory vaccines become part of the game moving forward.
Remember, the NFL and National Football League Players’ Association (NFLPA) came to a previous agreement that vaccines would not be made mandatory. With that said, there’s been a lot of talk about mandatory shots throughout other sectors of American society.
NFL limited by union rights
The league and its 32 teams can mandate that employers not associated with unions receive a COVID-19 vaccine. We’ve seen this come up with some assistant coaches either being terminated or reassigned after declining to get the necessary shots to become immunized.
As for players, the union is created to protect their rights. While Executive Director DeMaurice Smith has been weak in this regard, he holds pretty much all of the chips. There really weren’t any discussions between the two sides as it relates to mandatory vaccines for players.
How this might impact the 2021 NFL season?
It has already had an impact while we’re still in the summer months. New England Patriots quarterback and former NFL MVP Cam Newton is away from the team after coming into contact with a member of the organization who contracted COVID-19.
Newton himself is not vaccinated, meaning that NFL protocols indicate he has to stay away from team facilities for five days. In his stead, Patriots rookie first-round pick Mac Jones is taking advantage of that opportunity and could potentially earn the starting gig for Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins.
Outspoken vaccine critic Cole Beasley of the Buffalo Bills also finds himself in the NFL COVID-19 protocols after coming into contact with an individual who tested positive for the virus. Like Newton, he’s not vaccinated.
There’s also another relatively big backdrop to all of this. Why NFL rules prohibit teams from releasing players who opt not to get the vaccine, it will certainly play into the decision-making process over the next week.
Teams must cut their roster down from 80 to 53 before the deadline on Aug. 31. If a non-vaccinated player is battling for a roster spot with someone who has received the shots, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out in what direction the wind is going to blow.
None of this takes into account the NFL threatening forfeiture for teams who have games postponed due to an outbreak of COVID-19 among non-vaccinated players. That could end up being a lightning rod moving forward.
All of this comes amid a major uptick in cases among the non-vaccinated around the United States due to the Delta variant. Back in June 24, there were a mere 14,695 new cases of the virus in the country. Exactly two months later, that number has grown to north of 266,000. If this trend continues, it’s obviously going to have a widespread impact on the coming 2021 NFL regular season.