FROM HOME, Texas – July 10th already, presumably 18 days away from NFL teams reporting to home camp.
Starting to feel the anticipation of actual football mounting.
But so, too, the COVID-19-produced anxiety. Among coaches. Among players. And I'm guessing media members, too, because just like the NBA, radio and TV calls very well could be produced from studios filled with big-screen TV feeds, and who knows, maybe even some piped in crowd noise to make the telecasts seem more realistic if stadium capacities are reduced to, say, 50 percent or even closed off entirely to fans on game day.
Ever since the country began shutting down around mid-March, along with the sports world, too, seems the NFL has been somewhat screened off from the inactivity. Think about it: No NFL games needed cancelling, not like the NHL, NBA, MLS, college basketball tournaments. No season's start was altered, like Major League Baseball. Only the NFL's offseason programs have been canned.
Why, the NFL had all eyes on the start of free agency, a "new" league year, and for the Cowboys a new coaching staff. The NFL had the NFL Draft to look forward to, always a huge event. Then owners meetings, along with new rule proposals and adoptions.
Always something. Until maybe now.
Because now we are just a little more than two weeks away from the start of training camps. Not far from all NFL players beginning to test for the coronavirus. That's a total of 90 a team from 32 teams, so a minimum of 2,880 players, along with coaching staffs, support staffs and executive staffs.
As we've seen from the brief college and high school workouts, guys will test positive. Going to happen. Just look what happened to FC Dallas, expected to play in that soccer bubble of Orlando, Fla., at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, but had to withdraw because of so many players testing positive upon arrival.
Suddenly some NFL players are growing iffy on heading to training camp, just like players in the NBA and MLB. Protocols are being set. Preseason already has been reduced to two games, and for the NFLPA executive board that's still two too many.
So hang on tight, we are fixin' for a wild ride, producing shots left and right.
- Protocols Galore: Teams already have been relegated to conducting training camp at their home facilities. Meaning, no Oxnard, Calif., for the Cowboys. Changes are in store. The Cowboys must be praising owner Jerry Jones for building Ford Center. Because The Star locker room would be hard-pressed to socially-distance that many players. The Cowboys would have been hard-pressed if forced to practice solely outdoors, with the heat index this weekend in Frisco expected to hit 110. For sure, no fans will be allowed to attend any outdoor practices. Indoors? Highly unlikely. And aren't they lucky the Omni Hotel is part of The Star complex, where players will stay and those with homes in the area will have the option of staying.
- Game Day For Now: The NFL also passed out nine pages of game-day protocols to the teams, starting with preseason games. There are outlines for who will be allowed in the bench area around the players and coaches. A finite list for traveling parties. Testing 48 hours before departure. Home-testing at the hotel before leaving for games. Temperature test upon stadium arrival. No interaction with fans, security, family or media on the way to or from the locker rooms. Both teams having to stay in the team hotel the night before the game. Both teams having to ride team-sanctioned buses to and from the games. Socially-distant lockers in the locker room, and I can tell you some of these stadiums will be hard-pressed to put guys in every other locker, especially in the NFC East. No shared water bottles or coolers on the sidelines. Use a towel once, then goes it into the dirty hamper. Locker rooms cleansed and disinfected before team arrivals, after teams leave for the field, then again after halftime. Hospital grade cleansing of training rooms. Spaced out showers. Suggesting mask use on the sideline when not in the game, by most everyone. On and on. Oh, and of course, the least popular one seemingly for the players: No fraternizing with the opponents before, during or after the game. And yep, no jersey exchanges.
- One I Wonder: If coaches will be allowed to wear their sideline communication headsets? Like, how sterile can those headsets be? Might be back to hand-signaling plays in, which I guess the Cowboys would be in trouble since it was suggested last year that Kellen Moore was using the same signals from his Boise State days, even though the plays are called into the quarterback's helmet speaker.
- What About Dak: Amazing, huh, not having mentioned his name until now? Maybe since Dak Prescott has signed his franchise tag, but still just five days left to sign a long-term deal or simply play for the tag's guaranteed $31.4 million. Deadlines do have a way of making deals. But as said earlier in the week, depends on how badly he wants the money now or spread evenly over 17 weeks of the season … that is if there is 17 weeks.
- COVID List: NFL still discussing if players testing positive will be treated as any other injury, or will there be a two-week COVID List, so that if there is like a five- or 10-player outbreak the 55-man roster won't be decimated and replacements can be signed.
- Name Change: Not sure most understand the complexity of changing a team's name, something the Washington Redskins are considering after 87 years. Doesn't happen overnight. It's not just the name and logo, but the helmet, the uniform, stadium marks, marketing agreements, merchandise, business cards, letterhead. Re-write history? Think about it. Probably doesn't happen overnight. Good piece on ESPN.com by one of my co-authors of the Cowboys-Redskins rivalry book we did back in 1997, John Keim, who has covered the Redskins for more than 20 years. Interviewed former Washington Bullets executive vice president Matt Williams, who was with the team when changing to the Wizards in 1997. "It's amazing how you go through a stadium and through a practice facility where that logo exists," Williams said. "It's everywhere. It's a process to switch that over. … There are so many tentacles to where a sports franchise's name exists. It's quite an undertaking. It's a lot more of an involved process than certainly the general public thinks. They think you can paint a new logo on the field and it's done. You could do it that way, but it's not the preferred way and there will be hiccups." Like having to then trademark your name and make sure if you choose, like, the Washington Redfoxes, no one else has the rights.
- Shots In The Dark: See where the Big Ten has decided to only play conference games. Well, for those schools, that means only cancelling two non-conference games. But for a conference such as the SEC, that means four, and most of those non-conference games are revenue- and win-generating home games … Also hear the talk of colleges playing a spring schedule instead of this fall. Wonder if anyone has considered if the NFL doesn't cooperate with changing its offseason schedule how many seniors or draft-eligible juniors will want to play a season bumping right up against the NFL Draft. Heck, a lot of those guys don't even want to risk injury playing in a season-ending, meaningless bowl game in December or early January for that very reason … Guess the Packers requiring fans at Lambeau to wear masks on game day isn't a big ask, since probably for like half the home schedule those hearty folks are forced to wear skimasks to protect from the cold.
And lastly, here is what the NFLPA is proposing for training camp: First three days for medicals/equipment sizing; 21 days of strength and conditioning; 14 days of actual practice, with only 10 of those in pads. And those 38 days would lead right into the Week 1 season opener.
So on that note, now those perfunctory last words: