NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: Forfeits possible for COVID-19 protocol violations

Jarrett Bell

The NFL is entering another level when it comes to cracking down on teams and individuals found in violation of the league’s strict protocols for managing COVID-19.

Forfeits are now part of the equation. Call it a “No Mercy Rule.”

And Big Brother will be watching as the league will implement a video monitoring system at the headquarters of each of the NFL’s 32 teams to ensure compliance with protocols – particularly the stipulation that all players and staff wear PPE while at a club facility and during travel.

“Simply put, compliance is mandatory,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a memo distributed Monday to team power brokers and infection control officers, which was obtained by USA TODAY Sports. “Now is the time to recommit ourselves to our protocols and best practices for the duration of the season.”

In the aftermath of the outbreak with the Tennessee Titans that led to moving their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, scheduled for this past Sunday, to Oct. 25, Goodell warned that protocol violations that lead to schedule adjustments due to the spread of the virus will be subject to competitive discipline on top of the financial consequences already threatened to escalate.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in January 2020.

Goodell threatened the loss or adjustment of draft picks in addition to the potential for forfeits.

The Titans are the first team struck by a widespread outbreak, with more than a dozen players and staff members testing positive for the novel coronavirus. 

In conference call on Monday that included Goodell, team and league executives and coaches, several significant changes to the protocols (in agreement with the NFL Players Association) were reviewed. Included:

  • A longer onboarding process for free agent tryouts.
  • Bans on gathering away from team facilities. 
  • A limit on tryouts permitted each week.

“Complacency is our shared opponent,” wrote Goodell, noting the minimal number of positive cases during training camp and the first three weeks of the season, with daily testing of players and staff.

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The league is also considering mandates that would require all meetings to be conducted virtually, and that masks and face shields would no longer be optional for players during practices and walk-through sessions. The league could also decrease the size of each team’s traveling party and reduce time allowed in team cafeterias and locker rooms.

The message is clear: The NFL, determined to complete a full season within a pandemic, is increasingly willing to drop the hammer.

Ask the group of Las Vegas Raiders players who were fined after it was discovered that they did not wear masks while attending a charity event to benefit the foundation of tight end Darren Waller.

Waller was fined $30,000, while the following nine players were each docked $15,000: Derek Carr, Derek Carrier, Zay Jones, Nevin Lawson, Erik Magnuson (practice squad), Foster Moreau, Nathan Peterman, Hunter Renfrow and Jason Witten.

The NFL can’t prevent COVID-19, but it is certainly committed to mitigating the risk.