NFLPA's DeMaurice Smith: 'Tough Questions' Coming About NFL Season Amid COVID-19

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistApril 22, 2020

FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2020, file photo, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith speaks at the annual state of the union news conference in Miami Beach, Fla. The deadline for applying franchise and transition tags to free agents has been moved from Thursday to Monday by the league and players' union. With the NFL Players Association's members still voting on a new labor agreement the owners already have approved — that deadline was extended by two days to 11:59 p.m. EDT on Saturday — leaving the last time to use the tags at Thursday made little sense.   (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)
Chris Carlson/Associated Press

NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith recognized playing a normal 2020 season with fans in stadiums will be incredibly difficult due to the coronavirus pandemic.  

During an appearance on the CBS Debriefing the Briefing podcast (h/t Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk), he said the league and union will "have to ask tough questions" about how the sport will "fit into the safe practices of our country during a pandemic" as the season approaches.

Smith raised concerns about whether both sides will be "comfortable with those first responders being at a football game in order to keep us safe, or are we more comfortable with them being where they need to be in order to keep our families safe?"

He also pointed to the need for available and widespread testing across the population while recognizing the negative optics that would be created if players are tested a number of times while those in need are left without one.

"I don't think that anyone in our larger community should suffer simply because we want football to proceed on time," Smith said. "We know that we are in a situation now where we cannot mass test the people who need it … We have to make sure that they are taken care of first."

While there have been no announced changes to the 2020 season for now, especially since the NFL has the benefit of time with a September start that leagues such as the NBA, MLB and NHL did not have, there have been a number of notable changes to the offseason.

Travel restrictions prevented teams from meeting with free agents and draft prospects like they typically do, and all public events for Thursday's draft, originally scheduled for Las Vegas, were canceled.

Instead, the draft will be completely virtual with team facilities closed across the league.

What's more, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported the Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts, Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants, Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots and Washington started their virtual offseason workouts Monday with the rest of the league set to begin next week.

All offseason work, be it classroom instruction, educational activities or workouts, must be done virtually until all 32 team facilities are given the green light to open by federal and local officials.

Thursday's draft will be a major hurdle for the league as it adjusts to the new normal, but Smith's comments suggest a September start to the season with fans in attendance could be a stretch.