While the NFL got through its 2020 season, teams had to navigate a hectic season with COVID-19 outbreaks, delayed games, and shuffled schedules. With the wide availability of vaccines, the NFL hopes to have a close-to-normal 2021 season, but as appears to be the case with the Buffalo Bills, some teams are having trouble getting widespread buy-in from players.
A few weeks ago, Bills general manager Brandon Beanefound himself in hot water for admitting that he might consider vaccination status when it comes to making cuts. He called it a potential advantage, due to issues with social distancing during team meetings with a high level of unvaccinated players.
Significant players, including quarterback Josh Allen, have expressed concerns about getting vaccinated during interviews this offseason. Today, head coach Sean McDermott admitted that he has concerns about his team not reaching a high vaccination benchmark, and the potential setbacks that may bring.
According to ProFootballTalk, the NFL is considering relaxing some guidelines if teams reach an 85-percent vaccination threshold, the way other leagues like the MLB and NBA have. Considering Beane's previous statements, it sounds like Buffalo has legitimate concerns that they may not reach it, and will have a tougher time than teams that do in preparing this season.
McDermott said he could not reveal whether Allen has been vaccinated. He did point out that one of the Buffalo Bills, tight end Tommy Sweeney, missed all of 2020 due to his bout with COVID-19, and that his story may provide more than enough incentive for others to get the shots.
It sounds like this may be an uphill battle for a few teams this offseason. NBC Sports' Peter King reports that one unspecified team is under 40-percent vaccinations on the roster.
I think this would give you an idea of what could be coming this summer/early fall: Spoke to one team official the other day. His team has full vaccination by coaching staff and support staff (trainers, equipment, etc.), and less than 40 percent vax rate for players. He is dubious that his team will get to 85 percent for players. He said the hope he has is that once non-vaccinated players see the disadvantages of not getting the shot, they’ll grudgingly reconsider and get the vaccine. The disadvantages: daily COVID testing (for most teams, that entails a pre-8 a.m. swab at team facilities, including off days and bye weeks), mask-wearing constantly while in the team facility while teammates don’t have to wear masks, being confined to rooms on the road while vaxxed players can leave the hotel. We’ll see what kind of impact those things have on vaccination rates.
It is certainly up to each individual whether he gets vaccinated or not, but hopefully we don't see the same COVID-19-related setbacks in 2021 as we had in 2020, and most importantly, everyone involved in the league stays healthy and safe as we advance through OTAs and into training camp this summer.