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Optimism grows for full NFL stadiums in 2021

Mike Florio and Myles Simmons draft the teams that they wouldn't want to control this offseason, from the Texans to the Lions to the Falcons.

As the nation begins to make real progress when it comes to beating back the pandemic, the National Football League has a growing sense of optimism that stadiums will be full during the 2021 season.

From the availability of vaccines to signs of potential herd immunity, some believe that, by Memorial Day, the tide will have turned dramatically. Then, by Labor Day, the question becomes whether pro football will be able to pack its venues.

As noted on Sunday, salary-cap calculations are proceeding under the assumption that the league will have 75-percent attendance in 2021.

Many factors will influence the ultimate reality. First, people need to welcome the opportunity to be vaccinated against the virus. As more and more and more people are getting it, tales of serious reactions or other complications are becoming extremely rare. Second, political winds need to change in states where extreme caution has been the prevailing view since last March.

There’s nothing wrong with extreme caution. At some point, however, extreme caution becomes counterproductive -- especially as evidence mounts that we’re collectively getting the situation under control. For the NFL, a lingering political reluctance to return to normal (even if the circumstances justify it) could result in, for example, full stadiums in states like Florida and Texas but far fewer fans in California, New York, and Pennsylvania.

Again, much could change between now and Memorial Day and much will then change between Memorial Day and Labor Day. As the one-year anniversary of our upside-down reality approaches, it’s entirely possible that, within six months, many things could be rightside-up.

It’s far from automatic, however. People need to keep wearing masks. People need to welcome the opportunity to be vaccinated. If that happens -- and if the FDA will get the Johnson & Johnson single-stick vaccine finally approved -- things could possibly get on the right track.