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Months Before Season, N.F.L. and Players Clash Over Pandemic Workouts

  • April 17, 2021

Last season, despite virus outbreaks at team facilities and a flurry of schedule changes, the N.F.L. played all 256 regular-season games and a full playoff slate, culminating with the Super Bowl in Tampa, Fla.

The N.F.L., which had put in place protocols such as regular testing, mask wearing and social distancing at team facilities, reported that 262 players and 463 team personnel tested positive for the coronavirus, yielding a 0.08 percent positive rate. Similar protocols would be in place this off-season.

But Smith said those procedures did not apply to the current situation. More players will be in team buildings as they vie for a spot on the active roster, increasing the possibility for transmission. Others may not live in the city where the team is based during the spring and summer — Tretter said he was one of about six players who had entered the Browns’ facility this off-season — and travel will create chances for exposure.

Players should not need to jeopardize their health for optional workouts, unlike during the regular season when they would need to be present daily, Smith said.

“It’s balancing necessary versus unnecessary risks,” Smith said. “Our guys have to be there from week to week to compete at the level that our fans want them to compete on Sunday. Off-season workouts are something we know that is not needed for a successful season.”

Data compiled by the players association show 172 concussions were reported in 2020, a 30 percent drop from the average of 247 concussions reported per year over the last five seasons. Missed-time injuries, defined as injuries sustained that affect a player’s availability during the season, dropped to 2,716, a 23 percent decrease from the five-season average of 3,524.

Tretter argued that those statistics show it is in the N.F.L.’s best interest to continue last season’s template, something Brady agreed with.

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