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League, NFLPA agree on 2021 opt-out policy; Reid speaks on changes

While they differ substantially from 2020, the NFL still has rules and regulations relating to the coronavirus pandemic.

Kansas City Chiefs v Miami Dolphins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

As the coronavirus pandemic was underway last season, the league and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) agreed on a procedure where players could choose to opt out of playing in 2020. A total of 67 players — including Kansas City Chiefs right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, running back Damien Williams and rookie offensive tackle Lucas Niang — decided to do so.

As reported by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, the league and the NFLPA have now agreed that players will have that option again in 2021 — but there are a few key differences.

Like last year, players with medical conditions that put them at higher risk from COVID-19 infections will be able to collect a $350,000 stipend while their NFL contracts are pushed back one season. Players without such conditions — who would therefore be voluntarily electing to sit out the season — will still have their contracts deferred one year, but will not be able to collect the $150,000 stipend that was available to them in 2020.

All three Chiefs players who opted out of 2020 did so voluntarily.

Players will have until 3 p.m. (Arrowhead Time) on July 2 — a week from Friday — to make an opt-out decision.

But while the opt-out option for players remains, the league will still be conducting its business in a fashion much closer to what we saw prior to the pandemic. As Pelissero reported last week, players who have been fully vaccinated from the coronavirus will pretty much be able to return to a normal NFL routine — while unvaccinated players will not.

Players who are fully vaccinated are not required to submit to daily COVID-19 testing, wear face masks around their teammates and coaches, maintain physical distancing from others, or have travel, cafeteria, social, media, sponsorship, weight room or sauna restrictions. Players who remain unvaccinated must still abide by all of those 2020 rules.

Still, a significant number of players have chosen not to become vaccinated. The league (and individual teams) have remained silent on the precise numbers of unvaccinated players — although Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said last week that his team is among those with the most.

“We’re one of the top teams with vaccinations, and we’ll just keep rolling with it,” he told reporters. “But I think the education part of it ends up being important for a lot of guys just to know where this thing’s at — and where it’s going. And I like the policies that [the league has] put in. There are some things that just have to be done to make it work — and I think the league has done that.”

Teams have been allowed to provide information about vaccinations and encourage their players to get them, but must stop short of making it a requirement.

“We’ve kept the guys as educated as we can with the different protocols,” said Reid. “[We] also gave them the opportunity to look into whether they wanted to be vaccinated or not — the pluses there, what the doctors are saying [and] what the latest science is saying. So, if they had questions, all I asked was that they get them answered. With that, we’ve had a number of guys sign up. We’re heading in the right direction there.”