“We know that we can’t eliminate risk, but we’re trying to mitigate risk for everyone,” Sills said. “We can’t test our way to safety.”
Despite the precautions, at least one team has decided that it needs more time to prepare to practice. The Miami Dolphins, who play in South Florida, where infections are rising rapidly, told their rookies to report on Thursday, two days later than most teams.
Some players have accused the team owners of prioritizing the league’s finances over all else. One former team executive, Amy Trask, said that the league’s decision to stick to its schedule spoke more to its confidence that it would ultimately find solutions than to a cavalier attitude about player safety.
“Of course, economics play a big part of it,” said Trask, the longtime president of the Raiders who left the club in 2013. “But from a business perspective, I don’t think the outlook of team owners is ‘We’re tough,’ but ‘We’re smart.’”
While the two sides wrangle over safety measures, they are also negotiating over a second pressing matter: how to offset the loss of revenue from having a limited number or no fans in stadiums this season. The owners proposed keeping 35 percent of players’ salaries in escrow as a way to recoup that money as quickly as possible. That was a nonstarter for the union, which prefers to absorb the losses by lowering the salary cap, which is the maximum teams can pay players, over as many as 10 years.
“We know that players are taking all of the risk by returning to work,” the union said in a statement last week. “We also know there will be a shortfall in revenues next year, but players cannot be asked to bear the full brunt of both the health and safety risk and the financial one.”
The financial formula, though, does not need to be agreed on by the start of training camp. The more pressing matter for the players is how to safely start the season. In addition to the coronavirus, they are concerned about a possible spike in injuries after a long layoff. They point to 2011, when players were locked out by the owners during the off-season and sustained a rash of injuries during training camp.