League anticipates starting season on time
Wide Receiver Sterling Shepard #87 of the New York Giants makes a touchdown catch while being covered by Cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves III #28 and Mike Ewards of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on September 22, 2019 in Tampa, Florida.
Don Juan Moore | Getty Images
After weeks of waiting, the National Football League finally released the details of its 2020 regular-season.
It’s the clearest signal yet that the NFL fully intends to start its next season, despite the fact that much of the country is still under lockdown orders due to the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, other professional leagues like the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball have yet to solidify their plans to return to play after suspending their seasons in March.
The defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs will kick off the year when they host the Houston Texans in a prime-time game on Thursday Night, Sept. 10. It will mark the 15th time in the last 17 years the league’s champion opened the year on Thursday Night.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, featuring Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, will open the season against the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 13. The Brady effect is already impacting the Bucs, which are scheduled five national games this season, up from only one last year.
The post-Eli Manning New York Giants will open the year against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first of two back-to-back Monday Night Football games on Sept. 14. Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, the former Dallas Cowboys head coach, will have his first shot at his former team on Oct. 11 in Dallas. The NFC East rivals will met for the final time on Jan. 3, 2021.
Once again, the Cowboys will be one of the top the NFL with five nationally televised games, including three appearances on NBC’s Sunday Night Football telecast.
On Monday, the NFL also announced it would forgo its planned International Series Games this season due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The league was scheduled to host games in Mexico City at Azteca Stadium and four games in London this season. All games will be played in the U.S. this season.
Training camp concerns
But despite excitement about the schedule release, many questions still remain if the NFL will start its season on time, as questions surrounding coronavirus remain.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to notify teams of protocols required to be in place by May 15 before practice facilitates open. CNBC obtained a copy of the memo, which says teams must adhere to social distancing guidelines and wearing face masks while in team workplaces.
And before jumping to September, much will depend on if teams are able to start training camps in July. Covid-19 would have to begin soon to prepare for over 100 individuals, including team staff, arriving from all over the country.
Goodell said the NFL would be “prepared to make adjustments” to the schedule if necessary. “We will continue to make our decisions based on the latest medical and public health advice,” his statement said.
According to a person close to the league discussions, the NFL recently ensured players in a recent letter to agents they will not be separated from families during the season. It said teams would not place players in hotels during the entire season to lower the risk coronavirus infections.
Chafie Fields, an NFL agent at Wasserman, told CNBC players would need “some kind of physical conditioning training” program before gathering for training camp, as offseason programs have been interrupted due to Covid-19. He said “throwing them into the fire” could result in increased injuries.
“Hopefully [the NFL] will do the right thing to protect the health and well being of the players” said Fields, who negotiated roughly $300 million in contracts this offseason including for Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper’s $100 million deal.
Any changes to the NFL schedule or its logistics will need to be presented to the National Football League Players Association’s executive committee, before DeMaurice Smith, the union’s executive director, can approve on behalf of players.
Earlier this week, Goodell told teams that fans would be able to get refunds for tickets if scheduled games are canceled or have to be played in empty stadiums.