With rookies for the Texans and Chiefs expected to report Monday, and rookies from other teams following suit throughout the week, many of the NFL’s prominent players blitzed social media Sunday with pleas for the league to address several health and safety concerns.
Patriots defensive backs Devin and Jason McCourty drove the theme home on their weekly “Double Coverage” podcast Sunday night, voicing support for having so many players unite to send a vital message.
Among the headliners were Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who put out tweets or Instagram posts asking the league for clarity on the measures that are going to be taken to try and assure their safety amid a pandemic.
“Having players all unite together stemmed from a lot of guys on phone calls, trying to figure out how they can help, how we can get the game as safe as possible for us to go out and play,” said Devin McCourty, the Patriots’ defensive captain. “It’s been everybody all involved. I think that just shows how serious this pandemic is, but it also shows how much guys want to play football. Guys have been training all offseason, finding ways, whether it’s been in their driveways, in parking lots … you don’t do that without the thought of being able to get back and play.
“Guys who have been doing a lot of the physical and mental stuff to get prepared to play, we just want it to happen now,” he went on. “We’re trying to exhaust all options to make it as safe for us and our families.”
To that end, there was some movement and progress made Monday on one of the lingering issues. According to reports, the NFL and NFL Players Association reached an agreement to conduct daily COVID-19 testing. That protocol will last for a minimum of two weeks before possibly being adjusted.
The players had pushed aggressively for daily testing. The league had wanted to test less frequently, but for the time being, they acquiesced.
So maybe, Sunday’s social media blitz by the players, hit home. The McCourty brothers even alluded to the onslaught of messages being organized in some fashion, given the number of players involved.
“To me what was key was the cohesiveness of it all. I think we don’t always do a good job of that as players, using our own platforms to get a message out, and show unity with any given topic,” added Jason. “It was really good to challenge the league and say, ‘Hey, let’s work this thing out.’ We all know there’s a global pandemic going on, let’s minimize the risk if possible, to make the game as safe as possible. … I’m looking forward to us hopefully being able to work this thing out, as training camp is rolling around the corner. It’s crunch time.”
Except, while the league is marching forward with its training camp dates and deadlines, the McCourty brothers said they have received no information from the Patriots with regard to a reporting date, along with whatever new guidelines are in place, although the testing is a step forward.
NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and President JC Tretter addressed many of the union’s concerns in a 90-minute video conference call with reporters on Friday.
Along with establishing protocols, one of the other prominent issues is the number of preseason games. The league has planned to cut the exhibition schedule from four games to two while the union wants no games. The players would prefer a 45-day acclimation period leading up to the season to help avoid injuries.
Questions also remain on protections for players who want to opt out of playing.
The McCourtys indicated they didn’t know of anyone who had definitely decided to opt out, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see that happen.
“I think it’s something we will see throughout the league, guys opting out, and I think both of us have talked about it,” said Devin. “You don’t know what you’re going to do, but you want to have all the information before you say you’re definitely doing this, or definitely doing that.”
“Without a doubt,” added Jason, “you have to expect guys to opt out.”
Devin McCourty, however, pointed out how costly it would be failing to report to camp. The players are contractually obligated to do so. He put the figure at $40,000 for every missed day, “so that adds up in a hurry.”
Trying to get 2,000-some-odd players on board, and in agreement if answers still aren’t provided to the player’s satisfaction, is a tall order, especially given the players’ different financial situations.
Jason McCourty summed it up this way: “At the end of the day, our league is driven by superstars. It doesn’t matter how many guys want to go to work. If Lamar Jackson, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Saquon Barkley, if those guys aren’t playing, it doesn’t matter. People are going to be pissed off, because everyone wants to see the stars.”
That, in turn, might force the league to get its act together.
The McCourtys wondered: With the so-called reporting days nearing, is there something in place to avoid having 90 guys show up at the same time? Do they have staggered times?
“From a players standpoint, if you have all these questions right now, of course you’re not going to feel totally secure walking in the building,” said Devin McCourty. “We’re onto training camp without an idea of, ‘Hey these are the things we’re going to be doing, this is how things are going to be different … We still have time for these things to be worked out. But it’s a process. “
The Patriot safety noted that while other industries have made concessions and provided guidelines, it’s a little different for football. At any given practice, over the course of three hours, there’s a ton of physical contact.
“It could be a tackling circuit, it could be a blocking circuit, it could be man-press (coverage), where you’re right in another man’s face and you have to compete,” said McCourty. “So at any given time, we put ourselves at a higher risk than we’re used to.
“It will be very interesting to see how things move going forward. Especially with some of these rookies having to report back early. And probably the guys that know the least about what’s going on (and what to expect from camp) having to be there, is not a great feeling, I will say.”
Former NFL defensive back Bernard Pollard, a teammate of Jason McCourty in Tennessee, was a guest on the McCourty brothers podcast. Devin McCourty referred to Pollard as “the Patriot killer,” and Public Enemy No. 1 for Patriots fans.
Pollard earned the reputation after hitting Tom Brady in the knee, causing the quarterback’s torn ACL in 2007; and a hard tackle on Rob Gronkowski, forcing a severe ankle injury before the 2011 playoffs, among others.
Devin asked him if he was proud of the nickname.
“I played the game hard,” said Pollard. “For me, I just played tough. It was crazy that a lot of the injuries happened to the Patriots when I played them. But I think it’s a team where the fan base is excited about what they do. They are excited about the product on the football field.
“When I played New England, it was Tom Brady, it was Gronkowski, it was Wes Welker, it was Stevan Ridley (getting hurt) … it’s one of those things. It was tough,” he went on. “The Super Bowl was lost because Gronkowski wasn’t 100%. A season was lost … but the playoffs was missed when Matt Cassel had to step in. So they’re looking at two more Super Bowls the organization could have potentially had.”
In wake of a “Sports Uncovered” feature on the Bill Belichick most people don’t know, the McCourty twins were asked to share any stories where the Patriots head coach revealed his fun side and sense of humor.
Devin acknowledged Belichick had a “wry sense of humor” but wanted to talk more about giving the head coach the business about his Subway commercial. McCourty was already in top form, jabs ready to go.
“I can’t wait until we get back in this building, and we can all talk about this $5 dollar foot-long Subway commercial set we all saw Bill on,” said Devin. “He had on his same coaching sneakers from the facility … I’m going to go out on a limb and say Jules (Julian Edelman) brings it up first, and I’m excited to see are we going to get free Subway for the year? … so I’m excited to see what comes of this. Was he selfish and just worked out a deal for himself, or did he put the team first and get some for everybody.”