The NFL has a lot to figure out between now and the start of the season if it wants the regular season to start and end on the standard schedule. This much we know. Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio went on the Rich Eisen Show today to discuss some of those pitfalls.
During his appearance, Florio brought up the comparisons some are making between 2020 and the strike-shortened 1987 season that saw teams use "replacement players" while their other employees were on strike. It will be similar in some ways, but unlike with the strike, players do not have a choice in the matter. Florio points out that because coronavirus can affect anybody, teams may find themselves in compromising positions when it comes to finding players to fill in. He suggested the NFL steal from the XFL and have several rosters' worth of players who are in shape and ready to go at a moment's notice.
The XFL's extra roster of players was named Team 9. It had 40 players on the roster that shared facilities and medical staff with the Dallas Renegades. Teams had access to Team 9 tape on a regular basis and Team 9 put on full practices focusing on specific techniques and mental reps.
It would surely ease the mind of many GMs if the NFL instituted this idea and they had reliable intel on 40 different players they could call upon at any time in case of an emergency. Florio's idea seems to be for the league to take the 40 best available free agents once the season begins and have them go through the same motions.
While I think it's unlikely a team will have to stoop to picking up a guy who's been sitting on the couch eating pork rinds, Florio's larger point makes a lot of sense. Understandably lost amidst the flurry of more important things to worry about is just how severe the downgrade could be if starters and their backups have to be quarantined after testing positive, and how that downgrade affects not only the team's chances of winning but the health of the players around them. In a worst-case scenario, what if, say, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have to quarantine their whole offensive line and need to rely on a mid-week pickup to protect Tom Brady's blind side? That doesn't just mean the Bucs might drop a game or two-- it means Brady might see his season end after Cameron Jordan or some other equally large and strong man comes flying around the corner to plant him in the turf.
Logistically, it's difficult to see how Florio's plan might work. He's talking about having probably a hundred players on standby, most of whom are presumably living in different areas of the country. If the NFL does agree to pay for these players to work out and be ready should the time come, how do they split up their resources? Which team will get the first pick if multiple squads have to dip into this replacement players pool? How would contracts play out if they did pick someone up? Will there be enough testing to go around to ensure players not officially on any roster aren't infected when they are picked up and thrown in the midst of a 53-man locker room?
The league will have to get creative when it comes to this. Given the nature of the game, it is not only a possibility but a likelihood as of now that multiple players on the same team will test positive during the season and be forced to quarantine. Florio's suggestion will be one of many they'll surely explore as summer goes on.