Vaccination status matters to the NFL, so why is it forcing teams to pretend otherwise?

·Columnist
·5-min read

The NFL Players Association says it has opened “an investigation” — whatever that entails — into Urban Meyer telling the truth and acknowledging that vaccination status was taken into consideration during final roster cuts this week.

“That was part of the [decision-making process],” the Jacksonville Jaguars head coach said this week. “... Is he vaccinated or not? Can I say that was a decision-maker? It was certainly in consideration.”

Apparently Meyer can’t say that, actually, not that the NFLPA's investigation is going to do much about it.

The NFL set up a COVID-19 protocol system that has higher standards and stronger punishments for unvaccinated players. It makes vaccinated players more appealing to have on the roster.

This is obvious. However, Meyer, or any coach or executive, is not supposed to acknowledge that, even though not using it as a consideration would be ridiculous. Per the NFL and NFLPA, it's better to lie and look like a dolt than tell the truth and look smart.

You can hate the NFL's COVID protocols or you can love the NFL's COVID protocols but the NFL's COVID protocols are here. So teams, and players, have to operate with it in mind. Here are some highlights:

  • If you are vaccinated, you get tested weekly for COVID. If you are unvaccinated, you get tested daily.

  • A vaccinated player who tests positive is out for 10 days, although they can return sooner if they can produce two negative tests separated by 24 hours. The unvaccinated are out 10 days with no reprieve and then have to clear an additional three-day protocol.

  • A vaccinated player who comes in close contact with someone who later tests positive merely has to wear a mask in the team facility and get tested daily for five days. An unvaccinated player with a close contact is out five days even if they test negative.

Jaguars coach Urban Meyer may be in trouble for stating the obvious: Vaccination status matters in making roster decisions. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
Jaguars coach Urban Meyer may be in trouble for stating the obvious: Vaccination status matters in making roster decisions. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)

There is more. It tilts in favor of the vaccinated every time.

The impact is obvious: A vaccinated player is more likely to be available to play this season than an unvaccinated player. There are additional considerations, including the vaccinated contracting the virus at a significantly lower rate and the fact they carry a lower viral load than the unvaccinated, which might limit spread within the team.

Whatever the deal, any coach or executive would prefer to have a fully vaccinated team … simply for the competitive edge.

“It’d be an advantage,” Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane said last offseason, quickly drawing a rebuke from the NFL.

It was ridiculous. This is the NFL.

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Teams consider everything — everything — when it comes time to decide who to put on the roster. Ability, talent, potential, height, weight, age, speed, salary, intelligence, social skills, leadership, experience, attitude, maturity and on and on and on. Just to get into the league players go through a veritable cattle call known as the scouting combine. 

Further, the league is obsessed with analytics. There isn’t an aspect to football that hasn’t been studied, quantified and driven into the ground by data. Franchises have entire divisions to figure out how the odds change between going for it on fourth-and-3 and fourth-and-3 (and 2 inches).

Yet teams aren’t supposed to care if a player is at a greater risk of missing games? And they are supposed to be oblivious to vaccinated/unvaccinated statistics? Come on.

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Meyer and the Jaguars would be derelict in their duty if they didn’t at least consider vaccination status among the myriad of other factors.

What’s the old adage — the most important ability is availability? Well, this speaks to availability. It’s why even though New England coach Bill Belichick said Cam Newton’s unvaccinated status played no role in cutting the veteran quarterback rather than have him play as a backup, it would be almost unfathomable to believe that.

Belichick went on to note that lots of vaccinated players and coaches have tested positive as well — “so I wouldn’t lose sight of that.” True, but that isn’t the issue. The contact tracing and additional quarantine time is.

A backup quarterback’s chief job is to be ready to play. To carry an unvaccinated second-stringer — who can be caught up in tracing and thus an automatic five-day ban at any moment — would almost require there to be a third quarterback on the roster.

Or else you could be scrambling to sign a backup at the last moment and just hoping the starter doesn’t get hurt.

Maybe with a star player the risk is worth it. Indianapolis is sticking with unvaxxed Carson Wentz, who's currently in a five-day tracing penalty. But a backup? Some team will no doubt do it, but that’s asking for a disaster.

Urban Meyer didn’t make the COVID rules. He’s just trying to make the most of them. Considering the vaccination status of a player is a no-brainer.

So too, apparently, is the NFL and NFLPA’s golden rule: Just lie, we’d rather you look stupid.

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