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The NFL modified (meaning weakened and in some cases practically eliminated) many of its COVID-19 protocols for players just before the playoffs began to ensure its postseason would be played without postponements or delays and without the loss of stars from the participant teams.
The NFL isn’t admitting this.
But the NFL did this.
And it worked.
During the postseason, no more than 30 players tested into the league’s protocols and only a handful missed a playoff game. These modification to the protocols, by the way, happened in mid December at a time the Omicron variant was causing hundreds of positive tests per week.
Well, the playoffs came and went. The Super Bowl came and went. And Omicron came and has mostly gone.
And now the NFL is feeling the need to increase its protocols and restrictions again, this time for the upcoming Indianapolis Combine, which is scheduled to begin March 1.
Among the most onerous of these restrictions is a bubble of sorts for the prospects.
“Players will be restricted to secure Combine venues during their entire time in Indianapolis for their protection,” read a memo sent to invitees over the weekend, per multiple reports. “Players who violated this policy at any time will be disqualified from further participation and sent home.”
Except a funny thing happened en route to the league’s sudden and curious heightened COVID protocols for the roughly 324 Combine invitees: Player agencies representing nearly half those invitees have threatened a boycott of the Combine if the restrictions are not eased, multiple sources confirmed to OutKick.
One source told OutKick Sunday night he expected the so-called “bubble” requirement for Indianapolis to be eased. If this does not happen by Monday, the source said, the threatened boycott of all on-field testing, workouts and interviews would go forward.
The National Football League’s Players Association does not represent any of the incoming college players scheduled to participate in the combine. But the union is fully on their side.
“We have spoken to several agents to reinforce our long standing opposition to the NFL Scouting Combine and agree and support the decisions by those to not attend,” the NFLPA said in an email sent to all agents on Sunday. “The combination of the NFL’s proposed ‘bubble’ and the fact that we still have an antiquated system of every team doctor examining players and having them perform yet again needs serious modification or elimination.
“While we do not represent these players we have advocated for their rights to fair treatment. Our union has always encouraged players to take control of their careers from the very beginning and we appreciate that agents are looking at ways to support that goal.”
So Monday is going to be interesting.
Either the NFL eases protocols it did not enforce on its own players …
…Or the agents for the NFL’s future players could follow through on their boycott threats.
The likely outcome is the NFL eases its restrictions.
It is, after all, in the league’s best interest to have all the top college players not only attend but participate in on-field tests that the league’s media arm — NFL Media — turns into live programming for nearly an entire week.
The players who boycott, especially those considered top-caliber prospects, understand they will have other opportunities to meet with and work out for interested teams either at college Pro Days or in private meetings and workouts.
The NFL, it seems, is at a crossroads and unless it steps back, everyone might just find out the Combine isn’t that necessary for the best prospects after all.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero