Of course, players’ jobs could be on the line if they don’t get the vaccine, even if teams aren’t allowed to say so. Bills GM Brandon Beane said last month that he would release players who refused to get vaccinated, which led to considerable backlash from the league and the union. A week ago, Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott
acknowledged his concern that more of his players hadn’t yet gotten their shots.
Obviously, this is not an issue that’s limited to Orchard Park. And while NFL players, like everyone else, are entitled to make whatever decision they believe is in their best interests, the realities of their employment do make the issue inherently more complex for them.
Dan Graziano of ESPN.com recently laid out the differences in protocols for players who have been vaccinated versus those who have not. Notably, players without the vaccine are subject to daily testing and physical distancing requirements, and if they have been exposed to the virus, they must be quarantined.
Consider a situation like the one that recently unfolded at a Browns practice, wherein several unvaccinated Cleveland players had to be sent home from the facility because they were high-risk close contacts. We saw several games in 2020 that featured clubs either shorthanded or decimated because a number of their players were on the COVID-19 list, and teams certainly will want to do whatever possible to make sure that doesn’t happen again in 2021.
Stars and other core players aren’t going to be in danger of getting cut, but players on the fringes of a roster could be if they don’t get the vaccine. After all, if a roster decision comes down to a vaccinated player versus an unvaccinated one, a team will probably choose the player that isn’t always at risk of missing time. Officially, a player can’t get cut for their vaccination decision, but unofficially, it seems bound to happen, and it could be difficult for the NFLPA to win a grievance on that player’s behalf.
Volin says that the league and union continue to negotiate the threshold at which COVID protocols can be dropped completely, and that one potential number is 85%. In other words, if 85% of a team’s players are fully vaccinated, that team would no longer have to worry about the protocols.