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Almost half of NFL Combine invitees intend to boycott the event

If the players follow through, it could have a significant impact on how the NFL Draft plays out.

NFL: MAR 02 Scouting Combine Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

According to a Sunday report from NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, 155 draft prospects intend to boycott the main activities of the NFL’s Scouting Combine, which is set to begin March 1 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

The players — represented by 13 different agencies — intend to skip all of the Combine’s testing, on-field workouts and interviews in protest of the league’s COVID-19 restrictions for the event, which it announced in a memo sent to the 324 Combine invitees on Saturday. NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero obtained a copy of the communication.

According to the memo, invitees will be “restricted to secure Combine venues during their entire time in Indianapolis for their protection.” It also states that players who violate the policy “will be disqualified from further participation and sent home.”

The memo says that invitees will be allowed to bring one “medical support person” (that is, a trainer) to Combine activities. These individuals will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — and will also be required to have received the appropriate booster shots. They must also be symptom-free and wear face coverings when they are around any players.

But the memo Pelissero obtained does not say that Combine invitees are required to be vaccinated. This is consistent with their rules for NFL players in 2021: players were strongly encouraged to be vaccinated, but not required to do so. However, unvaccinated players had to follow more restrictive rules with regard to testing, masks and team travel.

Essentially, all Combine invitees — regardless of their individual vaccination status — will have to follow rules similar to those under which unvaccinated NFL players operated during the 2021 season.

The Combine rules for the “medical support” individuals are also consistent with the league’s 2021 policies for so-called Tier 1 personnel: coaches and other support personnel who were in direct contact with players.

So on the surface, this boycott is about rules that players may have to follow if they are ultimately drafted — and then join NFL teams. But a letter obtained by Rapoport on Sunday may shed additional light on another issue that is of concern to these prospects and their agents.

This letter — which was sent by the NFL Players Association to NFL agents — mentions the “antiquated system of every team doctor examining players and having them perform yet again,” saying that this aspect of the Combine “needs serious modification or elimination.” Yet this was the way the Combine operated before the coronavirus pandemic even began.

The coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the NFL Scouting Combine before the 2020 and 2021 NFL Drafts. Teams were forced to rely on college game tape and a limited number of virtual player interviews.

Should this group of draft prospects (almost half of those invited to the Combine) follow through with their boycott, they will be entering the draft under the same circumstances that college players did during the last two offseasons — while the rest of the invitees will have an advantage derived from the additional testing, workouts and interviews in which they will participate.

This could have a significant impact on the collective draft stock for both groups of players. It will be yet another factor to consider while handicapping the 2022 NFL Draft.