As the NFL continues to work toward creating a plan that allows the 2020 season to start in a safe and effective way amid the coronavirus pandemic, numerous players, coaches and league officials are tasked with brainstorming the best possible solution. Among them is Washington Redskins long snapper Nick Sundberg, as the special teams veteran is the team's player representative for the National Football League Players Association.
With the calendar turning to June and OTAs and other training sessions delayed, the pressure to make a decision on how teams can work together in person continues to rise. Sundberg understands the concerns but believes the best option at this point is to not rush into anything.
“I think to be cautious is the biggest thing. I don’t want to rush into anything," Sundberg told the Redskins Talk Podcast. "Especially since we have time on our side right now, we’re not missing games today, we’re months away from that.”
Sundberg is correct in saying that time is a valuable resource for the NFL right now. Unlike other professional leagues, each passing day isn't a delay of the regular season or playoffs. Leagues like the NHL and MLB are itching to get back and salvage lost seasons, football isn't there just yet as game action isn't in jeopardy until August.
Therefore, Sundberg thinks the best course of action at the current moment is to observe what the other leagues do in the coming months. They'll be back to work first, and the NFL should see how things play out and learn from successes and failures.
From there, the NFL would have a clearer picture of what could really happen when football returns. If the results are positive, the league can follow suit. If not, it will be up to Sundberg and company to re-work the policies done by others to create more progress in the future.
“If it were me leading our approach, I would create a blueprint from the MLB and the NHL. I would wait to see what they do and see what works and what doesn’t," Sundberg said. "Compare and contrast the two leagues on how they went about the situation of getting teams in the facilities, how they went about practice, who was allowed in the building, how they went about games.”
“I would try and model, take what they do and make it better if we can. Unless they just roll out a perfect plan, then that’s our blueprint," Sundberg added.
Besides examining policies put in place, Sundberg understands the importance of looking at numbers and trends. It's one thing to see how the other leagues go about having players and staff together on and off the field, but it's another to see what the virus does in that situation.
"Track data over a month, month and a half, six weeks," Sundberg said. "Let’s see how many players contracted, how many coaches, how many front office and staff members and that sort of thing.”
Real-time studies based on what happens when other sports return will largely dictate what the NFL can do, but Sundberg also understands that football isn't the same as other sports. When training camp begins, rosters are a lot larger than what baseball and hockey teams carry. Certain measures may be effective for those groups of players, but what happens when a full football franchise needs to be accounted for?
Additionally, contact is a necessary element of the game. At some point, teams are going to need to run drills where players block and hit each other and it won't be able to be avoided. How does the league prepare for that level of closeness? These are all things that Sundberg and others in the Players Association have to consider when laying the groundwork.
“For us, it’s so interesting because we have 90 guys on the roster right now and we have such a big organization, you know," Sundberg said. "You can’t have 10 guys over there, 10 guys over there, 10 guys over there. You can spread out on the fields, but at some point we have to come and do some one-on-ones. Guys are going to be breathing in each other’s faces.”
Safety for players, staff and others involved in football operations is essential, but it's not the only factor that goes into decision-making. As recent negotiations in the MLB have shown, contracts and payments will determine how the season plays out. The NFL is no different.
As Sundberg explains, NFL players are typically paid in season, as game checks and incentives make up their contract. That isn't necessarily a concern right now as the belief is that all games will be played, but there are other stipulations in tentative plans that Sundberg and other players don't agree with.
“Some of the things I’ve heard I haven’t fallen in love with," Sundberg said.
Specifically, a proposed idea on how to handle players who contracted coronavirus was not a procedure he was a fan of. During the podcast, he noted that there was a suggestion that those with the virus would be played on a two-week disabled list, rather than the Injured Reserve. However, coronavirus would be viewed as a non-football injury. In that instance, teams would not be obligated to pay the players who ended up on the list due to coronavirus.
Clearly, that wasn't something the players were going to go for.
“There’s no way a player could get the virus at work and then you say it’s a non-football injury, right?" Sundberg explained.
The long snapper's insight into how the NFL is handling the unclear future of the 2020 season has shown that a lot still needs to be done, but only time will tell how that happens. Other leagues will potentially return soon, and that can help the professional football league in its efforts to come up with the best course of action. However, tough football-specific decisions will still be on the table.
The stress and uncertainty of the time can be a lot, but it's not something Sundberg is shying away from. He was elected to help do what's best for his team and other players around the league, and he's looking forward to fulfilling that promise.
“I think there’s a lot of work that needs to happen moving forward before we even get to the point of stepping on the field for a game," Sundberg said. "But I’m kind of looking forward to cyphering through it all and seeing some of the creative things that guys that are put in place to do that have come up with.”
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