It was always assumed the Raiders’ first year in Las Vegas would be groundbreaking.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be unlike any season in NFL history.
That reality started settling in on Tuesday as Raiders rookies began an unprecedented indoctrination into the NFL. It’s a process that could significantly delay their access to the club’s new facility in Henderson and either the official signing of their rookie contracts or payments on signing bonuses.
At the same time, NFL owners and the players union conducted a lengthy conference call trying to finalize terms under which to play the 2020 season. While the two sides didn’t completely button up a plan, they appear to be inching closer after owners agreed to comply with the union’s wish to eliminate the preseason entirely. Meanwhile, a player agent who was privy to details of the call confirmed that training camp rosters have been trimmed from 90 players to 80.
With many of the health considerations now finalized — owners on Monday agreed to test players for COVID-19 every day through at least the first two weeks of camp — attention now zeros in on monetary concerns such as creating a stipend to compensate players in the event games are canceled and how best to deal with the inevitable financial shortfall of playing a season with either no fans or a greatly reduced number of fans.
Given how next year’s salary cap is based on revenue generated in the 2020 season, it behooves players to figure out a way to absorb the financial gut punch over a period of years rather than in one massive blow. To do that, the two sides would have to agree to tap into future salary caps — or borrow against them — to soften the 2021 hit.
As one player agent said: “Getting COVID protocol was huge, but we still have to figure out the economics of this thing.”
Nevertheless, the agent appeared cautiously optimistic the two sides will find the necessary common ground.
“We aren’t out of the woods … still talking points to figure out,” the agent said. “Made some serious progress, however.”
With veterans slated to report to camp on July 28th, there is still time to work things out and avoid any delays.
Welcome to the NFL under the constant cloud of COVID-19.
“It’s a whole new world,” said another prominent NFL player agent, who spent most of Tuesday trying to navigate his clients through the maze of protocols, safety measures and new procedures in place while also tending to the conference call between the league and the union.
For Raiders rookies and their peers across the NFL, that meant the start of a multi-day COVID-19 screening process for which two negative test results over the course of 72 hours is required before they can gain full access to the club’s practice facility.
Provided a player’s first test result comes back negative — the expected turnaround for results is 24 hours — they will return on Friday for a second test. Should the result again come back negative, players can transition to the next phase, which consists of access to team headquarters, clearance to undergo a standard physical and getting fitted for equipment.
A positive test on either day changes things considerably.
Per the COVID-19 protocol agreement in place between NFL owners and the players union, asymptomatic players that test positive will not be allowed back into the facility until 10 days have passed since the initial positive test, or five days have passed since the initial positive test and they have had two consecutive negative tests at least 24 hours apart within that five-day period.
In addition, the club’s head team physician must sign off on the return.
In symptomatic cases, clearance to return to the facility is predicated on at least 10 days passing since symptoms first appeared and at least 72 hours passing since the player last experienced symptoms. Clearance from the team physician is also required.
The entire process will be repeated next week when veteran players report to camp on July 28th, although that report date hinges on NFL owners and the players union signing off on a mutually acceptable plan to deal with health and financial ramifications of COVID-19. The start of the 2020 seasons rests on the two sides coming to an agreement.
As for the Raiders officially signing their rookie class to contracts, a league official indicated the club might have begun that process already. However, signing bonus payments will be predicated on players passing their standard physicals per the typical operating process across the NFL.
And based on the timeline of the COVID-19 testing procedures, the earliest players can begin undergoing physicals is Sunday or Monday.
Raiders, Ruggs agree on deal
The Raiders are making headway coming to financial terms with their rookie class — as evidenced by first-round pick Henry Ruggs agreeing to a four-year deal worth a guaranteed $16.7 million on Tuesday. The deal includes a fifth-year team option and won’t become official until he passes all the COVID-19 protocols and a standard physical.
The Raiders selected the speedy Alabama wide receiver with the 12th overall pick in the NFL draft, and he is expected to make an immediate impact on an offense in desperate need of the speed and explosiveness he provides.