As you know, Kansas City Chiefs right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was the first NFL player to decide not to play the 2020 season under the opt-out provisions established by the league and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. On Wednesday, running back Damien Williams became the second Chief to exercise that option.
But these two Chiefs are far from the only players who have decided to sit out the upcoming season. At this writing on Thursday morning, a total of 28 other NFL players from 19 other franchises have informed their teams they will take a pass on 2020.
- DT Eddie Goldman
- DL Star Lotulelei
- DL Kyle Peko
- OT Drake Dorbeck
- OG Drew Forbes
- WR Stephen Guidry
- CB Maurice Canady
- WR Marquise Goodwin
- DE Caleb Brantley
- OT Nate Solder
- OL Leo Koloamatangi
- DL John Atkins
- WR Devin Funchess
- LB Jordan Mack
- S Patrick Chung
- LB Dont’a Hightower
- OT Marcus Cannon
- RB Brandon Bolden
- FB Danny Vitale
- OL Najee Toran
- OT Andre Smith
- WR De’Anthony Thomas
- TE Cole Wick
- TE Jason Vander Laan
- OG Chance Warmack
- DL Eddie Vanderdoes
- OT Anthony McKinney
- DL Michael Pierce
So far, 12 teams haven’t yet had a player elect to sit down: the San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Chargers, Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins, Atlanta Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars, Las Vegas Raiders, Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers.
But there will undoubtedly be more players who will decide to miss the season. According to reports, the modified Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) gives players a seven-day window to opt out. But that window doesn’t open until the NFL and NFLPA have signed the new provisions. That hasn’t happened yet — reportedly because lawyers for both sides are continuing to work through the final language of the new parts of the contract.
So the parade of players taking a seat on the bench will continue at least through August 6 — and depending on the speed of the lawyers, likely longer.
We know there are two kinds of opt-outs: voluntary and high-risk. In both types, the player’s existing contract tolls (or pauses) for one year. So in the case of Damien Williams — who would have been a free agent in 2021 — the terms of his 2020 contract will now move to the 2021 season; he’ll now become a free agent in 2022. But in both types, any signing bonus that would have been charged against the cap in 2020 remains in the current year.
So Williams’ 2020 pro-rated signing bonus of $533,334 (and what is apparently a guaranteed $50,000 workout bonus) remains on the team’s cap for the coming season; for cap purposes, only his base salary and non-guaranteed bonuses (totaling $2.1 million) move to next season.
While there are reportedly some provisions that would allow players to choose to sit out later in the season (for example, if a family member becomes ill), in both types, the opt-out decision is essentially irrevocable; players are stuck with their decision.
But the two types of elections differ in two significant areas.
One is that a player who elects to miss the season voluntarily is paid a stipend $150,000 for the year, while a high-risk player (that is, one with specified medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma, cancer, etc.) is paid $350,000. In both cases, these are advances on their salary for the following year; those amounts will continue to be counted against the 2021 salary cap.
But perhaps the most important difference is that players who voluntarily elect to opt out will not collect an accrued season in 2020, while high-risk players will accrue another season. This has a bearing on many CBA calculations, including a player’s minimum salary and the retirement benefits to which they will eventually be entitled.
Although a few players (notably Washington defensive end Caleb Brantley) have been reported to have opted out as high-risk players, we don’t specifically know which type of election each of these 30 players have used. Just like the special Reserve/COVID designation that is also part of the new CBA provisions, this appears to be deliberate; the NFL and NFLPA would prefer that we don’t know if players on the new reserve list have tested positive or have simply been exposed to someone else who is infected. Likewise, the NFL and NFLPA figure it’s none of our business if a player has medical conditions that place him in a high-risk category for COVID-19.
That’s what we know about the nuts and bolts. But clearly, these opt-outs will also have on-field consequences, as they effectively place players on injured reserve for the whole season — except that they will have no chance to return after eight weeks.
So far, the Chiefs have been lucky. The team had already used a first-round pick to acquire running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the 2020 draft. The LSU star — previously thought to be a player who could work his way into the starting lineup at some point — is now the presumed starter. The team was also able to sign eight-year veteran Kelechi Osemele to help fill the void left by Duvernay-Tardif’s decision — but they already had veterans like Mike Remmers, Greg Senat, Martinas Rankin and Nick Allegretti (and rookies Lucas Niang, Yasir Durant and Darryl Williams) in the fold; there are plenty of ways the Chiefs could adjust while their Canadian doctor continues his medical work during the pandemic.
But it could be more difficult for some other teams — particularly the Patriots, who have (so far) lost six players to opt-out elections; four of those are established (or projected) starters. Whatever the cause of the rash of opt-outs in New England, that will be a tough pill for them to swallow.
While no one is likely to accuse head coach Bill Belichick’s team of an historic inability to have enough depth on the roster — an accusation that’s unlikely to stick to a team with their record of sustained success — no team wants to lose four starters before the first practice snap of training camp. In short, the team that also lost quarterback Tom Brady in the offseason has another hill to climb.