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NFL says teams could be forced to forfeit if they face a COVID-19 outbreak

Commissioner Roger Goodell believes the NFL can play a full season in 2021.David Dermer/Associated Press

A COVID-19 outbreak among non-vaccinated players and/or staff members could result in a forfeit this season, the NFL announced Thursday in a memo to teams.

In the memo obtained by the Globe, the league outlined its operating principles regarding the coronavirus for the upcoming season and included the following sentence in bold: “We do not anticipate adding a 19th week to accommodate games that cannot be rescheduled within the current 18 weeks of the regular season.”

If a game cannot be rescheduled and is canceled because of a coronavirus outbreak among non-vaccinated individuals, then the club with the outbreak will have to forfeit. For playoff seeding, the forfeiting team will be credited with a loss and the other team will be awarded a win.


Neither team’s players will receive their base salary the week of a cancellation. Additional sanctions may be levied by commissioner Roger Goodell if health and safety protocols were violated by players and/or staff members.

Postponements are still permitted this season; however, per the memo, they will only occur “if required by government authorities, medical experts, or at the commissioner’s discretion.”

In the event of a postponement as a result of an outbreak from non-vaccinated players and/or staff members, the team experiencing the outbreak is responsible for all additional expenses incurred by the opposing team.

In the event of a postponement as a result of an outbreak from vaccinated individuals, the league intends to “minimize the competitive and economic burden” on both teams.

The Patriots last season experienced multiple postponements, Week 4 against Kansas City and Week 6 against Denver, as a result of players testing positive.

Cam Newton was sidelined by COVID for a stretch last season.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

This season, if vaccinated individuals test positive and are asymptomatic, they will immediately be isolated and will be permitted to return after producing two negative tests at least 24 hours apart. They will not have to quarantine if deemed a close contact with an infected person.


If non-vaccinated individuals test positive, they must isolate for 10 days and then will be permitted to return if asymptomatic. They will be subject to a five-day quarantine if deemed a close contact with an infected person.

At least one high-profile player expressed his displeasure with the policies.

“Never thought I would say this, but being put in a position to hurt my team because I don’t want to partake in the vaccine is making me question my future in the NFL,” Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins wrote in a since-deleted tweet.

According to the NFL, more than half its teams have player vaccination rates greater than 80 percent. Earlier this offseason, coach Bill Belichick elected not to share how many Patriots have been vaccinated.

“We’ve got quite a few guys,” Belichick said in June. “The number’s increasing.”

Nicole Yang can be reached at nicole.yang@globe.com.Follow her on Twitter @nicolecyang.