Last year the NFL allowed players to opt out of the season under a new protocol due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These players' contracts were deferred for one year, so now they are scheduled to return to their teams in 2021. The Cowboys had three such players; FB Jamize Olawale, CB Maurice Canady, and WR Stephen Guidry. Could these players now have issues with the team after sitting out in 2020?
The question comes up after news yesterday that the Las Vegas Raiders cut three players, all three of whom opted out in 2020. While naturally there's been no admission from the team that the move were related to that decision, the optics of it aren't great for perception.
The NFL's provision was designed to be a kindness and help to players who felt unsafe resuming football under the pandemic. This could have been due to high-risk health conditions for themselves or immediate family, or just the general uncertainty of the virus at that time.
But naturally, in a league where rhetoric about brotherhood and military analogies are still prevalent, any notion of someone “quitting” on the team may not sit well with certain team cultures.
You don't need to look any farther than the comments sections and tweet replies on articles about players who opted out to see that this mentality exists. The insightful “we don't need quitters” comments may be coming from the worst of ours fans but are still reflective of attitudes that exist within these organizations.
It's not hard to see an old school, “tough guy” coach like Jon Gruden taking this stance with his players. He'll never admit it for fear of backlash from the players union, but it's not hard to fathom.
Of course, this doesn't mean every coach or general manager in the NFL feels this way. As far as the Dallas Cowboys go, Jerry Jones has often been one of the more compassionate and player-friendly executives out there.
Also, unlike those three former Raiders, players like Jamize Olawale and Maurice Canady have very likely spots on the 2021 roster. That is, of course, assuming there isn't another opt-out provision in 2021 and the players' stances haven't changed.
Olawale's value as a lead blocker and potential receiving threat at fullback could be greater than ever. We saw the run game suffer without a pure FB blocking and Jamize's skills as a receiver may be very attractive to Mike McCarthy after his success with fullbacks in Green Bay.
Canady, with the potential departures of Chido Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis as free agents, has a legitimate shot at competing for a starting role at cornerback. At the very least he should be a solid depth option.
The Raiders may have made a statement with those players because it was easy; no real loss given their prospects for making the team. Even if the Cowboys have a similar desire they made decide it's not worth the loss of the players involved.
Hopefully, players like Olawale, Canady, and around 60 others who chose to sit out in 2020 will get a fair chance to resume their careers with their teams. And maybe what happened with the Raiders was a pure coincidence or anomaly that won't be repeated elsewhere in the NFL.
The last thing we need to see in sports or any other walk of life is people being punished for putting family first.