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The NFL‘s plan for the 2020 season has some coaches thinking about staying home, a Super Bowl ring is available if you have a spare million lying around, and say goodbye to pass interference review. All that and more in this week’s 10-Point Stance.
1. Fear factor
It’s becoming clear to coaches in the NFL that there will indeed be a 2020 season. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic raging across the world, the NFL intends to get teams on the field at some point this fall.
The league made that abundantly clear when it announced its full schedule late last week, but not everyone in the NFL is as thrilled as football fans. As one NFC assistant coach explained: “Most coaches think there will be a season, but a lot of us are also really nervous about it.”
Not about whether games will happen, mind you. But nervous about what will happen after games are played.
The coach explained that players and coaches want to play, but some are also extremely worried about the risks they are taking with their health.
He said some older assistant coaches—those in their 60s—are especially concerned because of the evidence that the coronavirus hits older people particularly hard.
Across the league, the coach added, numerous coaches have been having serious conversations with their families and are wondering if it’s worth returning once the NFL season begins. He wouldn’t be shocked if a small number of assistants decided to stay home this coming season.
The concern is legitimate. While the NFL can (and would) take extensive precautions such as regular testing to protect players and other team members, these coaches aren’t stupid. Testing doesn’t prevent the virus from spreading.
To be clear, there are plenty of coaches and players who won’t think twice about going back to work as usual. They figure: This is what I do for a living, and there’s a number of other things that can kill me, so, whatever. I’ve heard them say it.
But there’s a not-insignificant number of others in the league wondering if the risk is worthwhile when the downside could be disastrous.
2. The new NFL
Chris O’Meara/Associated Press
So, just because the league released the 2020 schedule doesn’t mean there won’t be big changes to how the season plays out. One league source speculated—and emphasized it was just speculation—that things could unfold this way:
• Minicamps would be canceled.
• Fans would not be allowed to watch training camp practices, and training camp might be cut back one week, limiting potential exposure to the virus.
• Players would be tested before and after practice, and before and after games.
• Teams that play in states in which governors won’t allow teams to play would instead practice and play in the closest state that does.
• Players and coaches would sign coronavirus waivers.
• There would be no fans at the stadium for the Super Bowl.
3. Uncertainty reigns
Testing is crucial to the NFL’s return to play. Overall, that’s wise. The problem is that some tests can be unreliable.
That could be a massive problem. If the league relies on testing, and even a fraction of those tests provide false negatives, then a player (or a number of them) could slip through the NFL’s virus security net.
Furthermore, what happens if a player tests positive? I can tell you these are among the core issues that the NFL hasn’t yet solved.
What if, say, a defensive lineman tests positive? Do you quarantine only that player? The defensive line? The offensive linemen he went against?
The NFL surely will examine everyone around the player. Since everyone will be getting tested anyway, the NFL will say that a player testing positive isn’t catastrophic.
But that gets back to the testing, and whether the results are accurate. Players and coaches can only be truly secure if the testing works properly.
And that remains uncertain.
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
Now that the dust has largely settled on roster changes, the league’s hierarchy is beginning to take shape, at least on paper. And while a lot of teams’ futures appear hard to predict, the same can’t be said about the Chiefs.
In speaking to a handful of coaches around the league, several of them spoke so passionately about the Chiefs that they were practically blushing.
In their view, Kansas City has the best chance of being the next post-Patriots dynasty. This wasn’t opining. They said it as though it’s a foregone conclusion.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes was the biggest reason why. But there’s also a belief that coach Andy Reid will continue to find creative ways to use Mahomes’ historic talent and adjust when defenses do the inevitable, which is adapt to what the Chiefs do.
In other words, coaches have a great deal of faith in Reid. After he and the Chiefs won Super Bowl LIV with a riveting fourth-quarter comeback, it’s understandable why.
5. A ring to it
Gregory Payan/Associated Press
Patriots owner Robert Kraft has put one of his Super Bowl rings up for auction as part of the All In Challenge for COVID-19 relief, and if you haven’t seen this, you need to now.
Bidding opened at $75,000, but it increased by hundreds of thousands in the span of a few hours. With more than a week remaining in the auction, the ring has already broken the seven-figure barrier.
All of the money from the auction will go to Feeding America, Meals On Wheels, World Central Kitchen and No Kid Hungry charities. That’s obviously a good thing, but the speed and size of the bids is staggering.
Hopefully Vladimir Putin isn’t trying to get this ring, too.
6. No respect
Alex Brandon/Associated Press
Detroit and Washington are the only two teams that didn’t get prime-time games this coming season. That is a massive sign of disrespect.
When I asked Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins about that in a brief telephone conversation, he brushed it off, as he probably should.
“That’s not something we really think about,” said Haskins, who was made available to me via the Pepsi Stronger Together program.
One thing Haskins did enjoy discussing was new head coach Ron Rivera.
“It’s been great working with him,” Haskins said. “We’ve had a lot of good discussions, and he’s a terrific coach. Our relationship has been great.”
Can Washington surprise this year? It’s possible, but the franchise is clearly in rebuild mode, and teams like the Eagles and Cowboys are stacked.
But entering his second season, look for Haskins to be much better than some people expect. And if that comes to pass, Washington might get back on the prime-time schedule in 2021 and beyond.
7. MVP chaos
Patrick Semansky/Associated Press
As ESPN Stats & Info notes, the last time the NFL had a first-time MVP in three consecutive seasons was 2005-07. Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander won in 2005, Chargers tailback LaDainian Tomlinson won in 2006 and then-Patriots quarterback Tom Brady won in 2007.
While three consecutive new winners can happen, it’s extremely rare. But with first-time winners (Mahomes, Lamar Jackson) in each of the last two seasons, the anomaly is in play again next season.
Mahomes remains the favorite to win the award again in 2020, but the odds suggest there’s a greater chance that someone else will win it this year.
8. Change of plan
Mark Tenally/Associated Press
You may not have noticed because it was done so quietly, but the NFL recently decided to end the review of pass interference calls.
That’s an interesting turn after teams clamored so much for it a year ago.
Teams that I’ve talked to privately believed the system wasn’t implemented properly. And as flawed as these pass interference calls sometimes are, it remains better than having a replay review that wasn’t working properly and just delayed the games.
With teams skeptical it can ever properly be done, the review system isn’t likely to return anytime soon, if at all.
9. Guaranteed win for the Pats?
If the Dolphins start rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa against the Patriots in Week 1, he will be going against one of Bill Belichick‘s most startling trends, as ESPN Stats & Info notes:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Bill Belichick could potentially face Tua Tagovailoa in Week 1 when the Patriots host the Dolphins.
FROM ELIAS: Belichick is 8-0 in his career as a head coach against quarterbacks making their 1st career start – the most wins without a loss in these games in the Super Bowl Era. https://t.co/VMzPyrZv0F
Few coaches exploit weaknesses like Belichick, and rookies often have a lot of them.
Tagovailoa could have an outstanding career (and I think he will), but if history holds, it likely will start off with a loss.
10. Happy birthday, Cam
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
Quarterback Cam Newton turned 31 on Monday. As we wait to see where he ends up—he’s still a free agent—we just wanted to take a moment to remind you of how good he’s been.
Newton has been in the NFL for nine seasons. He’s thrown for 29,041 yards and 182 touchdowns.
He’s also rushed for 58 touchdowns.
One more time.
He’s rushed for 58 touchdowns.
All told, he’s been a solid starter in this league and should be on a team by now.
Here’s hoping he finds a new NFL home soon. All it takes is one team.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.