Patriots

For the NFL, the smart move would be to tap the brakes on 2020 season

For the NFL, the smart move would be to tap the brakes on 2020 season

Maybe tap the brakes for a month, NFL? Wouldn’t that make sense? A little “discretion is the better part of valor” being exercised?

Knock everything back 30 days. The start of training camp, Week 1, all of it. If you need to lose some games to get the Super Bowl in on time, lose some games. If you want to push into early March, you can do that too.

Deciding to put off a decision isn't necessarily indecision. Sometimes it's smart.

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Right now, you’re scrambling. You pulled it off with free agency and the draft. Good. Great. But don’t mistake success holding virtual events as an indicator that you’re the outlier American sport that’s got it all figured out. You don’t. And all non-Mahomes headlines this week have shown that.

We have a financial skirmish.

We have a preseason skirmish.

We have a size of roster skirmish.

We have a skirmish over face shields.

We have a mess of players that live and train in states that are in the grip of the virus the way Massachusetts was in April and May. And those players are going to be relocating to their respective cities all over the country.

The proposed date for rookies to report? July 19. Ten days away. Which means — if they’re smart — they’re arriving in their new towns by this weekend, limiting contacts and getting ready for their tests. And a few will come back positive, which will surprise the players but shouldn’t since, as Dr. Anthony Fauci and others have been saying for months, as much as 50 percent of cases can be asymptomatic.

And while the likelihood any player would even need hospitalization is infinitesimally small, there’s a whole boatload of people the young, vibrant and healthy are going to be in close contact with who are not so young, vibrant and healthy.

The Patriots have coaches on their staff who’ve battled cancer.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians, a 67-year-old cancer survivor, said on Monday, “The players, they’re going to all get sick, that’s for sure. It’s just a matter of how sick they get.”

Players will be going home to spouses, girlfriends and kids and inevitably some of them are going to have conditions which put them at greater risk than the average person if they contract COVID-19.

Can those players simply opt out of the season? Well, according to NFLPA Vice President Sam Acho, the league is trying to prevent that.

“The league is very hesitant to have any player opt out,” Acho said on SIRIUS XM NFL Radio. “Their position is if the player doesn’t want to go to training camp, well that’s their decision. Obviously, fines could take player and you could lose your starting spot, all those things could take place.”

Which, to me, is an insane stance. If a guy doesn’t want to play, passively threatening, cajoling or bribing him into playing is an absurd idea.

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Not that the NFLPA is flawless in its logic either.

NFLPA President J.C. Tretter of the Browns took issue with the number of preseason games.

“The NFL has recently stated it wants to play two preseason games,” Tretter wrote. “When we asked for a medical reason to play games that don’t count in the standings during an ongoing pandemic, the NFL failed to provide one. The league did provide a football reason, though — to evaluate rosters. The NFL also stated that it was important to stage preseason games to check how our game protocols will work.”

There’s no medical reason to play any games, J.C., whether they count or not, pandemic or not. Playing football is the wrong thing to do medically. Period. Has been since the country tried to ban it last century.

But if it’s going to be played — and it will be — being able to judge participants in a game setting is kind of a baseline ask.

Players, coaches, agents and executives I’ve been in contact with as the season looms have a default answer to almost everything: “Dunno.”

Nobody in their right mind is asking for guarantees that there are no cases. Nobody in their right mind should need the entirety of the season mapped out through the Super Bowl.

But with the proposed start of camp barely two weeks away, not enough is pinned down. Actually, it seems like almost nothing is. It’s nobody’s fault. Standing down isn’t an admission of failure.

Committing to getting it right rather than committing to getting it going would actually be a show of strength, decisiveness and leadership. Never a bad time for that.

NFL opt-outs: Complete list of players who won't play in 2020 season

NFL opt-outs: Complete list of players who won't play in 2020 season

NFL training camps are already in full swing, but there are some notable absences.

Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif became the first NFL player to opt out of the 2020 season last Friday, citing health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since then, multiple players have followed suit, continuing a trend across all major North American professional sports of players declining to participate in their seasons as COVID-19 persists in the United States.

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The Patriots especially have felt the impact of this trend: Eight New England players -- including star linebacker Dont'a Hightower -- already have opted out, the most of any NFL team.

Below is a running list of the players who have opted out of the 2020 NFL season, according to reports or team/player confirmations. The list is sorted alphabetically after the Patriots, with the date of the players' opt-outs in parentheses.

New England Patriots

RB Brandon Bolden (July 28)
OT Marcus Cannon (July 28)
S Patrick Chung (July 28)
LB Dont'a Hightower (July 28)
WR Marqise Lee (August 1)
OG Najee Toran (July 27)
FB Danny Vitale (July 27)
TE Matt LaCosse (August 2)

Arizona Cardinals

OT Marcus Gilbert (August 4)

Baltimore Ravens

OT Andre Smith (July 28)
WR/KR De'Anthony Thomas (July 27)

Buffalo Bills

CB E.J. Gaines (August 2)
DT Star Lotulelei (July 28)

Carolina Panthers

LB Jordan Mack (July 28)
LB Christian Miller (August 3)

Chicago Bears

DT Eddie Goldman (July 28)
S Jordan Lucas (August 3)

Cincinnati Bengals

OT Isaiah Prince (July 31)
DT Josh Tupou (July 31)

Cleveland Browns

DT Andrew Billings (August 4)
OL Drake Dorbeck (July 29)
OL Drew Forbes (July 29)
OL Colby Gossett (August 4)

Dallas Cowboys

CB Maurice Canady (July 27)
WR Stephen Guidry (July 28)
FB Jamize Olawale (August 2)

Denver Broncos

OT JaWuan James (August 3)
DT Kyle Peko (July 28)

Detroit Lions

DT John Atkins (July 29)
WR Geronimo Allison (August 2)
C Russell Bodine (August 5)

Green Bay Packers

WR Devin Funchess (July 28)

Houston Texans

DT Eddie Vanderdoes (July 28)

Indianapolis Colts

DB Rolan Milligan (August 5) 
LB Skai Moore (August 4)
DB Marvell Tell (August 5)

Jacksonville Jaguars

EDGE Larentee McCray (August 1)
CB Rashaan Melvin (August 6)
DL Al Woods (July 31)

Kansas City Chiefs

OG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (July 24)
OT Lucas Niang (August 6)
RB Damien Williams (July 29)

Las Vegas Raiders

LB Ukeme Eligwe (August 4)
CB D.J. Killings (August 3)
DE Jeremiah Valoaga (August 3)

Los Angeles Rams

OT Chandler Brewer (July 31)

Miami Dolphins

WR Allen Hurns (August 4)
WR Albert Wilson (August 5)

Minnesota Vikings

NT Michael Pierce (July 28)

New Orleans Saints

TE Jason Vander Laan (July 28)
TE Cole Wick (July 28)

New York Giants

CB Sam Beal (August 5)
WR Da'Mari Scott (August 2)
LT Nate Solder (July 29)

New York Jets

OL Leo Koloamatangi (July 28)
LB C.J. Mosley (August 1)

Philadelphia Eagles

WR Marquise Goodwin (July 28)

San Francisco 49ers

WR Travis Benjamin (August 4)

Seattle Seahawks

OG Chance Warmack (July 27)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

T Brad Seaton (August 6)

Tennessee Titans

OL Anthony McKinney (July 28)

Washington Football Team

DT Caleb Brantley (July 27)
LB Josh Harvey-Clemons (August 3)

Free Agents

G Larry Warford (July 28)

Willie McGinest expects Cam Newton to be Patriots' starting QB in Week 1

Willie McGinest expects Cam Newton to be Patriots' starting QB in Week 1

The leading candidate to start at quarterback for the New England Patriots is Cam Newton, and former Pats linebacker Willie McGinest expects the 2015 NFL MVP to win the job in training camp.

There are four quarterbacks on the Patriots depth chart -- Newton, Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer and Brian Lewerke -- and head coach Bill Belichick told reporters last week that "everyone will get a chance to prove themselves."

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McGinest, who's now an analyst for NFL Network, recently gave his take on the Patriots' quarterback situation.

“Well, they say it’s a competition, but if you are asking my opinion, I expect to see Cam Newton start at the quarterback position," McGinest said Wednesday on WEEI radio show "Dale & Keefe". "If he’s healthy, he’s the guy.”

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One thing Belichick values tremendously is versatility, and McGinest pointed out that Newton brings plenty of versatility to whichever offense he's playing in.

"If you talk to a lot of offensive coordinators and you say, hey, if you had a Cam Newton, what does that bring to your offense? The first thing they'll say is versatility," McGinest explained. "A guy you can do multiple things with within the offense. Cam has beat a lot of people with his legs, and he's had his share of injuries, but he's strong, he's big, he's physical, he can move the pocket. So, now you can incorporate those RPOs, those zone runs, those spread passes. It keeps defenses off-balance. And he can still throw the ball down the field from the pocket and be accurate.

"And he has something to prove. Here's a guy who's pretty much at the bottom of what quarterbacks are making this year and he felt like he was done wrong, so you're getting a guy with a chip on his shoulder that if he's 100 percent healthy, he brings so much to an offense. Josh McDaniels is going to have a field day with designing plays around Newton and the rest of the personnel."

Newton played in just two games last season due to injuries, and a shoulder ailment bothered him for a large portion of the 2018 campaign. If Newton is able to stay healthy and be on the field for a full season, there's no reason why he can't rediscover the form that made him a top 12 to 15 quarterback in the league for much of his career.

And as McGinest pointed out, Newton is highly motivated to play at a high level. You can bet he wants to show that teams passing on him in free agency was a mistake, while also setting himself up for another huge payday next offseason.