By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- If you follow the minutiae of the National Football League in an effort to try to understand the larger picture, then Tuesday afternoon and evening was not a very encouraging time if you're hoping to see the 2020 NFL season played. And that's without even addressing the massive issues on the horizon with regard to health and safety protocols while trying to play football in the middle of a pandemic.
No, the latest issue -- like so many issues at this juncture in time -- has to do with money. Specifically, as Tom Pelissero first reported for NFL Network, the NFL has proposed that players put 35 percent of their 2020 salaries in escrow, to help account for the significant revenue losses expected from the lack of fans paying for tickets to games.
According to Pelissero, the NFLPA responded to the NFL's request by saying this: "Kick rocks."
Beyond the "formal" response of telling the league to kick rocks, a lot of players spoke up about this budding issue. Unsurprisingly, not many players are willing to put off more than a third of their 2020 salaries. Many crying-laughing emojis were used. Multiple GIFs were employed.
On the one hand, it would make logical sense in some capacity for the players to make less money in 2020, considering the league's profits and revenue streams will be greatly diminished. Yet, from a player's perspective, the league and the owners never offer to add more money to existing player contracts when profits and revenue streams exceed expectations; that money instead works as pure profit for the owners. So if the owners aren't willing to spread the wealth when the billions stack up, then the players shouldn't be forced to give back money in the one instance when the rivers of cash flow are temporarily not flowing.
As All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas put it, the billionaires can save their own money, while the players add even more risk to the already-dangerous job for which they've been hired to perform.
Given that reaction, one might wonder if some silent players might be more open to the idea than the ones speaking out against it. The answer to that question seems to be a massive no -- as in a "less than zero percent" kind of rejection.
All of that, of course, is money-related, which is of course no small deal. The NFL and NFLPA have had their fair share of head-butting sessions over such matters, and it's not hyperbolic to say such an issue could lead to players refusing to show up to work in late July.
What also isn't a minor matter is the fact that ... the NFL does not appear to be equipped or ready to welcome 90 players plus dozens of coaches to facilities in the coming weeks.
It's possible -- or perhaps even likely -- that the NFL powers that be assessed the situation in March and assumed that the country would have a much better handle on the virus by the time training camp rolled around. Some of them might have even assumed the U.S. would be in a good place virus-wise in time for OTAs in June.
Obviously, that hasn't panned out the way that some might have expected, with cases in Florida, California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada and other locales still surging. As such, some of the protocols put into place -- i.e. spreading lockers out, making one-way hallways, limiting the number of people in meeting rooms at one time -- don't appear to be particularly effective when assessing a sport where colliding at full speed on every single snap is a requirement. When you look at the positive tests that have sprung up across every other sport -- from golf to basketball to baseball and everywhere in between -- then it's illogical to assume that positive tests won't be found in the NFL, as well. And when that happens, the measures in place to prevent the spread seem to be insufficient.
Panthers safety Tre Boston summed up his confusion with the NFL's plans to reopen facilities to players in the coming weeks in a safe fashion:
Likewise, Bills receiver Stefon Diggs expressed serious concern with everything facing players as the time to actually start playing is rapidly approaching.
This was all after NFLPA president JC Tretter of the Cleveland Browns wrote a scathing letter that accused the NFL of prioritizing business needs over the health and safety of players.
"The NFL is unwilling to prioritize player safety and believes that the virus will bend to football," Tretter wrote. "We will continue to hold the NFL accountable and demand that the league use data, science and the recommendations of its own medical experts to make decisions. It has been clear for months that we need to find a way to fit football inside the world of coronavirus. Making decisions outside that lens is both dangerous and irresponsible."
Suffice it to say ... the NFL has some issues. It also doesn't have much time to solve them, with players set to report to camps around the country in the coming weeks. And through it all, the league that has refused to let the coronavirus pandemic disrupt any plans all year long is still expecting those camps to open as scheduled.
This is a league, mind you, that still believes that fans will be allowed to attend games this season -- a season that is set to begin in just 64 days. It's a league that pulled off a draft and free agency during the COVID-19 era and thus may have begun to feel an air of invincibility with regard to the virus severely impacting its business. That feeling has no doubt dissipated by now, as reality starts to set in.
The league that sat back and waited for the problems to disappear is finding itself in an unexpected and unenviable position. To climb out of it, they'll certainly need some creative and inspiring leadership. Unfortunately, their commissioner is Roger Goodell, so it might be smart for Americans to start hedging on the idea of an on-time start date ... or perhaps any start date at all.
Is it possible -- even remotely -- for players to report to camp on time, for the virus to somehow not infect any of the near-3,000 players heading to camp thus leading to zero shutdowns among the 32 teams, for agreements between the league and union on preseason games and salary escrow to be smoothed over, and for real live actual football games to begin on Sept. 10? Sure, technically, yes, it's "possible."
But even an optimist's optimist would have to concede that at this particular juncture in time, all of that taking place without any hiccups or roadblocks along the way sounds like nothing but a well-crafted fairy tale.
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