The NFL announced on Wednesday sweeping changes to its protocols for players who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, which largely allow vaccinated players to go back to pre-pandemic normal at work, while unvaccinated players will have to continue with the restrictions put in place to deal with the pandemic during the 2020 season.
The new protocols, which were forged in an agreement this week with the NFL Players Association, were relayed to owners during a virtual meeting on Wednesday. Fully vaccinated players will no longer have to be tested daily, will not have to wear masks at team facilities, will not be subject to quarantine after exposure to a COVID-positive individual, will have no travel restrictions, may eat in the team cafeteria and use the sauna and steam room. They also will not be subject to capacity limits in the weight room and will be allowed to interact with vaccinated family and friends during travel.
Unvaccinated players will still have to be tested daily, must wear a mask at team facilities, are still subject to physical distancing, will have to quarantine after exposure, will have travel restrictions and will not be able to interact with family and friends during travel, and cannot eat in the cafeteria or use the sauna and steam room. They will be subject to capacity limits in the weight room, too.
The new protocols come with virus rates plummeting across the country as vaccination rates rise. But there has been concern -- this week voiced by Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott, although he is not alone -- that some players may be reluctant to get the vaccine. The NFL will not mandate the vaccine, but, in concert with the players' union, is instead relying on education and incentives to encourage players to take the vaccine.
The new protocols would allow teams to gather as normal again. But the biggest incentive among the new protocols would seem to be that vaccinated players will not be subject to quarantine if they come into contact with a person with COVID-19. That means those players would not miss practice time or games, while an unvaccinated player would. For players -- especially those battling for jobs -- availability is critical.
Commissioner Roger Goodell said on a conference call with reporters that 30 of 32 teams have more than 90 percent of their Tier 1 and 2 personnel -- coaches and staff -- vaccinated, and the remaining two teams are above 85 percent. The NFL had previously told teams that personnel whose jobs put them into contact with players will have to be vaccinated, and Goodell said Wednesday the NFL expects the number of vaccines to climb among staff. But Goodell did not answer a direct question about what percentage of players have taken the vaccine.
"We do think all players and personnel are safer if they are vaccinated," Goodell said. "I don't know of a single medical source that doesn't believe that."