More than 60 NFL players choose to opt out of season due to coronavirus concerns

Key Points
  • The NFL's deadline was 4 p.m. ET on Thursday for players to voluntarily opt out of the season if they don't want to play amid the coronavirus pandemic.
  • More than 60 players have informed the league they intend to opt out.
  • The NFL allowed players with medical conditions to sit out its 2020 season with pay.
Atlanta Falcons running back Todd Gurley catches a pass during a strength and conditioning NFL football workout Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, in Flowery Branch, Ga.
John Bazemore | Pool | AP

The deadline for players to opt out of the upcoming National Football League season has officially passed, and more than 60 individuals have decided to sit at home for the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic, the league said Thursday.

The NFL's deadline was 4 p.m. ET on Thursday for voluntary opt-opts, and the league allowed players with high-risk, pre-existing medical conditions to sit aside. Players who opt out of the season are paid $150,000, which is labeled a "salary advance" and will be paid back, while high-risk players have more detailed processes.

Players who opt out due to increased risks of contracting Covid-19 can only claim medical conditions disclosed to teams before the pandemic hit. If approved, high-risk players get a $350,000 stipend that does not have to be repaid should they make their current team's roster in 2021.

According to a league memo obtained by CNBC, the NFL listed "CDC-defined" risk factors including asthma, Type 2 diabetes, organ transplants and neurological conditions as reasons players can miss the 2020 season.

Hightower Tweet.

"There are very good reasons some of these players do not want to play," said Angela de Cespedes, a partner at Saul Ewing Arnstein and Lehr litigation practice.

But de Cespedes, a Miami-based attorney who has a history of representing "interests" of the Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium, also cautioned that opting out is half the battle, as players will need to also prepare for possible "unknowns" that could arise.

Tom Brady of the Buccaneers looks for an open receiver in the red zone during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Training Camp on August 04, 2020 at the AdventHealth Training Center in Tampa, Florida.
Cliff Welch | Icon Sportswire | Getty Images

Job status

Discussion around players opting out has been an issue for some who feel the uncertainty around Covid-19 isn't worth the risk, even with the NFL's health and safety protocols established.

Notable players from teams including the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots decided to opt out due to the pandemic. But players are also at risk of losing their roster spot should another player outperform at their position, de Cespedes said.

"Players who take this route have to be pretty confident in their position because they are subject to trade (or being released)," she said.

Players who opt out will not receive medical benefits for the 2020 season. But it's possible they could be subject to potential violations of contracts.

De Cespedes said if an at-risk player decides to sit out for safety reasons and was later found in public violating Covid-19 safety guidelines, it can open a door for potential conflict with clubs.

"I think there might be some issues that come up with respect to that," de Cespedes said. "It doesn't mean you get to go around and stop wearing the masks and do whatever you want. You've opted out because you have concerns about your safety or the safety of someone in your immediate family."

It's one reason de Cespedes called the NFL opt-outs a "moving target." The NFL and players are dealing with health and safety issues like this for the first time, and she said it'll be interesting to follow some of the unknown issues that pop up in the coming months.

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Another concern, according to de Cespedes, is "contractual disputes" should a high-risk player who opts out demand a trade after making the roster, which guarantees he doesn't need to repay the Covid-19 payment. Though players who select opt-outs will also have their contract on hold and teams will obtain salary cap relief, de Cespedes looked ahead to next offseason.

After this Covid-19 year is complete — should the NFL get to the finish line — what happens if a player is traded? Who is responsible for the money already paid? And would a player still have to reimburse the team if he's no longer on its roster after any trade?

These are "some of the issues that are going to have to be negotiated," de Cespedes said.

The NFL has yet to hold any discussions with the National Football League Players Association on whether the opt-out would extend into 2021 for on-the-field football activities if major Covid-19 concerns remain. If the 2020 season is canceled, each player will receive up to $300,000 depending on his league and roster status.

The NFL canceled its preseason due to Covid-19 and is still scheduled to open on Sept. 10 with the Chiefs hosting the Houston Texans.

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