The COVID-19 virus will still have an impact on the 2021 NFL season, even though some major hurdles have already been cleared. For the Cowboys, one such improvement compared to last offseason is training camp returning to Oxnard, California.
The Cowboys announced their return to Oxnard earlier this week, with the news that fans will be allowed to attend open practices. Exactly what protocols these fans will have to follow at training camps around the league isn't fully known, but the guidelines for players and coaches are now much clearer.
Many of these rules and restrictions are now based on whether or not a player or coach is vaccinated. Daily testing, masks, quarantine following a close exposure, and bans on social/marketing activities are just a few of the protocols non-vaccinated personnel will have to adhere to.
While some can say that none of these things stopped the 2020 season from reaching the finish line, the incentives to play a new 17 game schedule with a wide majority of the league vaccinated are clear. Vaccinated players and coaches will be able to remove their masks around the facility, including in a full weight room or cafeteria amongst other vaccinated individuals, and leave their hotel on the road.
The fine for an unvaccinated individual breaking quarantine can reach up to $50,000 on first offense. Unlike in 2020, where teams on the road may have limited options for entertainment in their city, there are now plenty of major cities operating at full capacity without mask mandates for restaurants, bars, and nightclubs.
Weighing the pros and cons of these new rules remains a personal decisions that teams are talking to their staffs about. There is a layer to this that could clearly affect roster building though, as vaccinated players will not have to quarantine after being exposed.
Players fighting to make down-roster spots and practice squads can make themselves more valuable simply by being available – be it injury free or protected from COVID-19.
The biggest note for coaches in this league memo is that unvaccinated staff members will not be able to work in person with players starting with training camp. Regardless of how well teams feel they handled a virtual offseason a year ago, on-field coaching is a valuable tool that was missed by teams like the Cowboys who introduced a new Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator in 2020.
That DC, Mike Nolan, did not last the season coaching with Mike McCarthy as the challenge of installing a new defense during the COVID-19 offseason was too great. McCarthy has told the media that the vaccine remains a personal choice for everyone in the organization.
According to a report from the Dallas Morning News' Calvin Watkins, the Cowboys are under a 70% threshold for vaccinated players. Other sports like Major League Baseball have set a percentage for teams to lift masking and other restrictions, with the MLB holding at 85%.
The NFL has chosen to operate on a more individual basis, though allowing players to virtually “return to normal” once vaccinated could incentive teams to quickly reach a high threshold. The Cowboys opening press conference from Oxnard is Wednesday, July 21st. Media members will be allowed to attend, those that are vaccinated able to hold in-person interviews. This may be the next time the Cowboys can update their fans on their latest vaccination level as it relates to these new NFL guidelines.