The NFL will be keeping a close watch on what appears to be the impending start-up of the Major League Baseball season. But it’s the resumption of another professional sports league that will draw the NFL’s more immediate attention.
Germany’s professional soccer league – the Bundesliga – has set a return date of May 16, making it the first pro league in either Europe or North America to resume play after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. It will provide a potentially vital blueprint for how pro sports can return safely, and the NFL will be watching carefully.
“We’ve been in contact with all domestic leagues, but also sports organizations around the world,” Brian McCarthy, the NFL’s vice president of communications, told Newsday. “We have a number of protocols, see what works, see what can translate into our sport. We’re all in the sports business, but every sport has its own matters to attend to.”
There are some important differences between the sports, of course, but if German soccer can pull off a successful return, it could be a boon to the NFL.
“We’re looking at eventually 90 players for training camp, which is quite different from other sports,” McCarthy said. “There are some commonalities, and that’s why we’ve had a number of people from our staff – from [NFL chief medical officer] Dr. Allen Sills and [NFL executive vice president of health and safety policy] Jeff Miller – on calls with other sports leagues. We’re looking at what we can adopt, what we can modify that is working in other sports, sharing best practices.”
No fans will attend the games, and the German government is warning people not to gather in large groups to watch the matches, with social distancing measures still in place to deal with the virus.
Testing of athletes, coaches and administrators will be a key component to the Bundesliga’s re-start. The German Football League said last week that 1,724 tests had been conducted among the 36 first- and second-tier clubs, with 10 individuals testing positive and immediately being isolated. Additional testing will take place before the games resume. It should be noted that Germany has had one of the most robust coronavirus testing systems in the world, with far less disruption to everyday life than many other countries, including the United States.
Regular testing will be vital for the re-start of North American sports, including the NFL. The league has sent out guidelines to all clubs to begin the opening of team facilities that have been shuttered since late March. All teams must have protocols in place by May 15, although it is uncertain whether the facilities will open the following week. Players will not return as part of this first phase of the reopening, and will continue working remotely, with coaching staffs communicating by video conference calls.
“Our immediate process is working on returning staff to the facilities,” McCarthy said. The league is also working toward setting guidelines for the eventual resumption of the game.
The league released its schedule Thursday with an eye toward playing its entire 16-game regular season and playoffs, concluding with Super Bowl LV in Tampa on Feb. 7. Commissioner Roger Goodell offered a note of caution by saying that changes will be made if necessary due to the coronavirus situation.
The start of the NFL season is still a long way off, but if the return of soccer in Germany turns out to be a success, then it’s one more step in the right direction.
In the end, futbol could very well end up helping football.
Dalton signing a win for Cowboys
Really like the Cowboys’ signing of former Bengals starter Andy Dalton. For several reasons:
He’s about as good a backup as there is in the league right now.
He’s a great insurance policy in the event Dak Prescott doesn’t report because of his unwillingness to either sign the franchise tender or agree on a new long-term contract.
He’ll provide a veteran presence without creating any distractions by trying to unseat Prescott if and when he does return to the team.
Now, all that said, I do not believe that Jerry Jones’ intention in signing Dalton is to ultimately move away from viewing Prescott as the long-term quarterback of the Cowboys. It might keep the price tag from entering the stratosphere, but I think Jones keeps his word and works out a new deal, much the way he did with former first-round running back Zeke Elliott shortly before the start of the 2019 season.
“I think when I look at the career that Dak has had with the Cowboys, it gives me a really solid feeling about what’s in store for us in the future,” Jones said Thursday during the NFL Network’s schedule release show. “We’ve got to do everything we can — and that’s what we’re doing in this offseason — to put the players on the Cowboys that are players that can — with his talent as quarterback — really win championships or have a shot at it. That’s the thing I think about when I think of where we are and how we are with Dak.”
Jones added a major building block for the offense, drafting Oklahoma receiver CeeDee Lamb in the first round.
Trubisky’s days with Bears numbered
Bears general manager Ryan Pace said during a radio interview this week that the Bears still “believe in Mitch [Trubisky],” despite the fact the team didn’t pick up the quarterback’s fifth-year option.
“Mitch gets it. Everyone’s competing,” Pace said in an interview on 670 The Score. “Everyone’s focused on better results. That’s the entire team. That starts with me and everybody. We believe in Mitch. That doesn’t change.”
But it really has changed. And there is little reason to believe that Trubisky will remain with the Bears beyond the 2020 season.
Start with the fact the team acquired former Super Bowl winning quarterback Nick Foles in a trade with the Jaguars. Then factor in the team’s decision not to pick up the option to Trubisky’s rookie contract, and it adds up to his eventual departure from the Bears.
There will be an open competition for the starting job in training camp, but even if Trubisky holds off Foles in the short term, his lack of development over the first three seasons suggests it may be a matter of time before Foles would take over. And it’s quite possible that transition would occur before Week 1.
Pace gambled and lost with his acquisition of Trubisky, trading up to the No. 2 spot in 2017 to take the former North Carolina quarterback. That’s the same year the Chiefs moved up to No. 10 to take Patrick Mahomes and Houston used the No. 12 choice to take Deshaun Watson. Both quarterbacks are light years ahead of Trubisky, with Mahomes clearly the best quarterback in the game right now.