Veteran Eagles know for sure now that they are expected to report to the NovaCare Complex on Tuesday for the start of training camp, since the NFL and the players’ association have agreed to revisions to the collective bargaining agreement.
Beyond that? Like many of us in the time of a pandemic, they figure they’ll just have to see how it goes.
“It’s at least going to get started,” center Jason Kelce said over the weekend. “How it goes after that probably depends on how well we keep the virus from contaminating the whole building, how other teams do.”
Most players haven’t been allowed in team facilities, but because of some chronic wear-and-tear issues from nine years on the line, Kelce has an exemption to get treatment. He said he’s been getting nasal-swab tested at NovaCare every Thursday for the past few months. Everyone in the facility must wear a mask, and once camp starts, players’ movements will be monitored to keep track of their interactions.
Asked about the test, Kelce said he didn’t find it uncomfortable, and that he hasn’t had to wait long for results: “It’s really quick. You usually find out the next day.”
Running back Boston Scott was on a union conference call Friday night in which union leadership answered as many questions as it could about how all of this is supposed to work, in 32 NFL cities. Scott said he understood he will need to test negative twice for the coronavirus before he really does anything.
“Test the first day, take a day off, completely away from the building, test again, take another day off away from the building, and then, based on two negative tests, we’ll be able to proceed from there,” he said.
Once camp actually starts, players are to be tested every day for at least the first two weeks. They won’t be practicing the way they normally would during that period, given that the full 2020 squad will be gathering for the first time and has no base of spring work to draw upon.
“We’re going to be involved with the strength and conditioning staff for a good bit of the [acclimating period.] From there, it’s going to be like OTA phases -- non-padded stuff. … They reduced the number of padded practices from 16 to 14,” Scott noted, with no pads allowed until Aug. 17.
Teams can start with as many as 90 players, though they must be down to 80 by Aug. 16. With no preseason games this year, a lot of the roster padding isn’t necessary; having huge rosters only makes it tougher to keep everyone safe.
There are three tiers of access for people interacting with the players, and everyone involved will be carefully monitored. But unlike the NBA and the NHL, which are dealing with much smaller rosters and a shorter time period before concluding their seasons, NFL teams won’t be in any sort of 24-hour bubble. Everyone goes home at night, though there is a hotel option.
Kelce is married, with a 9-month-old daughter, but he said he would have quarantined in a hotel for the season if necessary. He said he was surprised at how many players were not willing to do so, when options were being discussed.
“I definitely don’t want to spend time away from my wife and daughter, but for a season, I’ll stay in hotels. The type of money they’re going to pay me, if that was the safest way to do it, [I would],” he said. Kelce is in the middle of a three-year, $24.5 million deal. “I don’t think that necessarily was [the safest way]. It became clear that wasn’t going to be the route taken by the NFL.”
Does he think he and his family will be safe? Kelce acknowledged that he thinks about younger Eagles “wanting to have some social interaction outside of football,” which he said he certainly understands.
“Most of the science suggests that me and my wife and my daughter should probably be relatively safe. But I’m worried about coaches, I’m worried about my dad, who just moved into the area. He’s certainly got a bunch of at-risk things.
“Most people, in general, are pretty good people. They want to do right. If it’s properly communicated, this isn’t just about protecting you, it’s about protecting your coach, everybody in this building, about protecting the entire likelihood of the season happening.
“I think that’ll get a decent response, and enough of one that’ll limit [potential spread].”
Cornerback-turned-safety Jalen Mills said there is just no way to know about safety, or the viability of having a 16-game season, until camps open and the process starts.
“I can’t say I’m worried,” Mills said. “I can say that I know that we’re going to learn through trial-and-error. That’s the only way that you can learn. That’s the only way that you can slow down the process. At this point, we don’t know how it’s going to go, if it’s going to spread [within the team] or it’s not going to spread.”
Scott, who was preparing over the weekend to travel to Philadelphia from his home in Louisiana, said he thinks about risk, especially about contact with his father, a stroke victim. This offseason, Scott and his sister have picked up some of the speech therapy work with their father, out of necessity because of virus restrictions.
Scott said he is willing to accept the risk. Reports about the deal between the union and the league said players will have until Aug. 3 to opt out of playing this season. They will receive a stipend -- $350,000 if they are deemed at high risk of catching the virus, $150,000 if they just decide they don’t want to report, for whatever reason. Chiefs guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a medical school graduate working in a longterm care facility back home in Montreal this offseason, is the only player to announce his intention to opt out so far.
“I want to play football. I know there’s risks associated with it, and I understand a lot of the concerns players have. I share a lot of those concerns,” Scott said. “I have a father who suffered from a stroke back in 2018. I just hope that everybody makes safety a premium. But there’s a lot of unknown factors. The nature of the virus, being novel and emergent, you don’t know what the future holds. I think the fear of the unknown is really a lot of concern to guys.”
The planned precautions inside team facilities seem impressive. But as Scott observed, “We’re going to be outside, at some point, smashing into each other for two hours.”
There is no way to predict how that will go. Kelce wonders if during the season, it might be prudent to keep a top sub offensive lineman away from the starters as much as possible, the way Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians has suggested quarantining a backup quarterback, just in case.
“If your five offensive linemen all get the thing right before a game, what happens?” Kelce asked. “It’s going to be a rough game.”
Kelce said that if they do get to the season -- scheduled to start Sept. 13 for the Eagles, at Washington -- it is likely “there’s going to be more guys missing games than in the entire history of the NFL.”
Scott said that while it’s impossible to know who might test positive by September, he trusts Eagles coach Doug Pederson and his staff to have the healthy players ready to go.
“I know how Doug P. is, I know how strict the conditioning staff is going to be,” Scott said. “We’ll be in shape, whenever it’s time.”