The Incentives Driving NFL Roster Decisions

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Hey Friends,

The 2021 National Football League (NFL) season doesn’t start for another week, but the argument between vaccinated & unvaccinated protocols has already kicked into high gear.

Brandon Beane, the general manager of the Buffalo Bills, made headlines in May during an appearance on a team-sponsored radio show, saying that he would cut an unvaccinated player to get the team closer to herd immunity “because it’d be an advantage” for the team to have a normal offseason experience.

The NFL reportedly spoke with Beane about his comments and reiterated that teams are prohibited from cutting players solely due to their vaccination status.

But the issue has come up again, with Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer stating that he and general manager Trent Baalke considered a player’s vaccination status during final roster cuts.

"Everyone was considered," Meyer said. "That was part of the production and also, was he vaccinated or not. To say that was a decision-maker, it certainly was under consideration.''

The Jaguars issued a statement after receiving public backlash — they say no one was released because of their vaccination status — but the NFLPA has decided to open an investigation into the situation anyways.

In a world where everyone currently seems to be a scientist, doctor, or expert on the war in Afghanistan, I have prided myself on staying neutral. The vaccine is a personal choice, and everyone should do what is best for themselves and their family.

But these comments by decision-makers around the National Football League (NFL) shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. With COVID-19 wreaking havoc in cities all across the country, the NFL saw its revenue drop by about $4 billion last year.

National Football League (NFL) Revenue

  • 2019: $16 billion

  • 2020: $12 billion

So, to ensure that all games are played, stadiums are full, and revenue returns to normal, the NFL instituted a strict set of rules to all but force players and personnel to get vaccinated. Why? Because they can’t legally force them to do it without negotiation and agreement from the NFL Players Association.

For example, unvaccinated players will still receive daily COVID tests, wear masks around the facility, can’t leave the team hotel on road trips, and have restrictions on the number of people they can be around in the weight room, team cafeteria, and more.

Fully vaccinated NFL players don’t have to deal with any of those rules — the NFL will now test vaccinated players every week instead of every two weeks — but the major difference comes through the “high-risk close contact” protocol.

Here’s how that rule works: If an unvaccinated individual comes in contact with an infected individual, they must quarantine for 5 consecutive days, regardless of if they test negative or not.

But if a vaccinated individual comes in contact with an infected individual, they will not be required to quarantine unless they test positive. That means that only unvaccinated players are at risk of missing games without a positive test.

This rule is already having a major impact. For example, Jaguars defensive end Josh Allen was placed on the reserve-COVID-19 list on August 23rd and missed the last two preseason games after coming in contact with an infected individual, yet he never actually tested positive for COVID-19 himself.

If that were a vaccinated individual, they wouldn’t have missed a single snap.

Vaccination Rate By Pro Sports League

  • WNBA: 99 percent

  • MLS: 95 percent

  • NFL: 93 percent

  • NBA: 90 percent

  • MLB: 86 percent

  • NHL: 85 percent

Again, I’m not a doctor and none of this should be taken as vaccination advice one way or the other, but the NFL’s assertion that coaches & GMs won’t take vaccination status into account when making roster decisions is beyond laughable.

The NFL and its player’s association spent the entire offseason implementing protocols that favor vaccinated players and teams, including the potential loss of pay for canceled games.

But now they expect you to believe that coaches & GMs won’t consider vaccination status when making cuts? Yeah, ok. Incentives drive everything in the world, and this is no different.

The NFL implemented a strict set of rules designed to put pressure on players to get vaccinated, so they shouldn’t be surprised when those very rules are cited as a determining factor in whether a player ultimately makes an NFL roster or not.

I hope each of you has a great day. I’ll talk to everyone tomorrow.

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Huddle Up is a daily newsletter that breaks down the business and money behind sports.

If you would like to join more than 47,000 other professional athletes, business executives, and casual sports fans that receive it directly in their inbox each morning, subscribe now.


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