The NFL laid out protocols Wednesday for the gradual reopening of team facilities, a process that would begin with select staff members and eventually expand to include players, according to a memo commissioner Roger Goodell sent to all 32 teams that was obtained by ESPN.
Team facilities have been closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic. But as state and local governments begin easing restrictions, the league wants teams to be ready to implement the first phase of protocols by May 15.
At that point, Goodell said teams can expect to be advised when their facilities can reopen. The memo made no mention of a previous NFL policy that said no facilities could open until all 32 facilities are eligible to do so, raising the possibility of staggered reopenings around the league. NFL owners are expected to have further discussions of reopening facilities, and their approach moving forward, during their May 19 virtual league meeting.
According to the memo, the first group of employees allowed back into facilities would include no more than 50% of non-player staff, and up to a total of 75 per day. The only players permitted to return would be those who were already rehabilitating injuries prior to the facility closures.
The league is working with the NFL Players Association to finalize a second phase that would allow players to return, per the memo. It is not yet clear whether they would be allowed to practice on the field.
Upon reopening facilities, teams must also, as outlined by Goodell:
• Receive consent from state and local governments.
• Acquire enough cleaning and other supplies.
• Create an infection-response team that includes doctors and team athletic trainers.
• Designate an infection control officer (ICO) to be the first point of contact for any employee who displays coronavirus symptoms.
• Provide coronavirus safety and hygiene training to all employees who will return to the facility.
Face coverings and physical distancing of at least 6 feet will be required for all employees. Gloves also will be “highly recommended,” according to the memo. The ICO would provide information on coronavirus testing “for suspected new cases.”
There is no mention in the memo of preventive testing, an element that many experts believe is essential for team sports to resume competition.
As of now, players have the option to participate in voluntary virtual workouts and training sessions via videoconference. The first portion of the NFL’s virtual offseason is set to conclude May 15. Teams can resume their virtual offseason programs on May 18 and continue them through June 26.
The NFL will release its full regular-season schedule Thursday night, although Goodell said in the memo that the league “will be prepared to address contingencies as they arise.” Goodell warned team officials about “uninformed commentary that speculates on how individual clubs or the league will address a range of hypothetical contingencies,” saying it “serves no constructive purpose and instead confuses our fans and business partners.”