JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – NFL training camp will start next week and it’s already shaping up to be quite a different season due to COVID-19.
The NFL and the its Players Association have agreed to drop all of this year's preseason games and the league announced on Wednesday that fans will all have to wear face coverings if they attend games.
Teams have spent the offseason building their roster to 90 players to enter training camp. Now, in order to create more space in locker rooms the NFL wants teams to enter training camp with no more than 80 players. That means hundreds of players around the league will have to be released over the next week without ever having a chance to prove they belong.
“It is unfortunate. There are 10 spots, 10 guys, that won’t have an opportunity to show what they can do,” said News4Jax sports analyst Mark Brunell. “The NFL is different right now. COVID-19, the rules have changed and will continue to change.”
Across the league, that’s the loss of 320 spots.
With smaller rosters and no preseason games this season it will be especially difficult for undrafted rookies, and even late round draft picks, to make the final 53-man roster.
“I’ll be impressed if it happens. That makes it really difficult for a free agent guy, an undrafted guy, to make the roster,” Brunell said. “You are basing everything on his college tape and what he is doing in a practice environment. You really can’t find out what type of young player you have until he is in a game.”
One player outside of the rookies who could be hurt by the changes to the offseason and the lack of preseason games is quarterback Gardner Minshew, Brunell said. For a young quarterback, any game snap is valuable because there are some things you can’t mimic in practice.
“I have heard this phrase, ‘game reps during practice,’ but it doesn’t make any sense to me I don’t even know what that means,” he said. “Practice is great but you can’t compare that to the games.”
Another change that fans will notice is that the players on the field won’t be the only ones in the stadium wearing masks. With the regular season 50 days away, the NFL announced Wednesday that fans, if they’re allowed to attend games this year, must wear a face covering while they’re in the stadium.