So far in our series reviewing key questions facing the Seahawks as they head into their summer break, the focus has been on what may happen on the field.
But now comes what may be the biggest question of all hovering over the next few months — will there for sure be a season, and if so, what will it look like?
Until just a couple of days ago, the really simple answer to those questions was that yes, there will be a season of some sort, but no, no one really knows exactly how it will unfold.
But events of the past few days have seemed to throw the question of if there will actually be a season into at least some doubt.
Specifically, 13 players for the University of Texas football team were reported Thursday as testing positive for the COVID-19 virus, which came on the heels of reports earlier in the week of positive tests for Dallas Cowboys player Ezekiel Elliott and Houston Texans player Kareem Jackson, news which arrived as some states such as Florida were reporting record highs in new cases.
Those reports came as Dr. Anthony Fauci was quoted as saying Thursday it will be “difficult” for the NFL play a season in 2020 without a “bubble-style” approach, something many wonder is feasible for something requiring as many people as an NFL football game.
But the NFL said in a statement released to ESPN that it was still confident a season will be played.
“Dr. Fauci has identified the important health and safety issues we and the NFL Players Association, together with our joint medical advisors, are addressing to mitigate the health risk to players, coaches, and other essential personnel,” NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills said according to Dan Graziano of ESPN.com. “We are developing a comprehensive and rapid-result testing program and rigorous protocols that call for a shared responsibility from everyone inside our football ecosystem. This is based on the collective guidance of public health officials, including the White House task force, the CDC, infectious disease experts, and other sports leagues.
“Make no mistake, this is no easy task. We will make adjustments as necessary to meet the public health environment as we prepare to play the 2020 season as scheduled with increased protocols and safety measures for all players, personnel, and attendees. We will be flexible and adaptable in this environment to adjust to the virus as needed.”
Maybe the best description of where things stand right now came in an NFL.com story this week detailing some of what the league is considering in terms of how to handle testing for COVID-19 and other protocols that will be necessary for hosting training camp and playing games: “The overarching theme of the process is essentially everything remains fluid.’’
As has been evident since the spring when the impacts of the pandemic began to really become clear, the NFL is dead set on trying to conduct as much business as it possibly can.
So far, the NFL has mostly done so, holding its draft as scheduled (while doing so virtually), signing free agents, hosting a modified offseason program and announcing a full 16-game schedule (though leaving open the option of shortening it, if necessary).
But all of those events could be done viritually.
Now comes the much-tougher task of playing games, which requires hundreds of people to be in relatively close quarters.
As of this week, though, the NFL is still hoping teams will open training camps as scheduled on July 28 with the regular season set to begin Sept. 10.
But as NFL officials stated this week, there may need to be some “ramp-up time’’ to get players ready for camp and teams used to how to handle what the league hopes is regular testing to keep everybody safe.
That could mean the shortening of the preseason from four games to two — which seems highly likely — with some thinking there could still be no preseason games at all.
But the hope is protocols will be in place to allow regular season games — such as testing anyone who may come in contact with players on gameday a few days prior — to be played.
And the league continues to tinker with options to make for the best games possible. That includes this week floating the idea that practice squads could be expanded to 16 players — they were at 10 last year and slated to expand to 12 for this season — to allow for an additional pool of players ready it needed.
As for fans in stands, no one really knows for sure yet, though any rise in cases such as those seen this week raises only more questions.
The NFL has advised teams for months to begin preparing for any and all possible scenarios — no fans, half-filled stadiums, full stadiums.
But with roughly 62 percent of league revenue coming via media contracts, the motivation will be high to get games played one way or another and earn that money — and with just one game a week, unlike MLB and NBA, some of the the logistics (namely travel) may be a little bit less complicated.
The Seahawks have obviously been one of the best home teams in the NFL for years — Seattle is 99-45 at home since 2002 the second-best in the league behind Green Bay — and not having fans theoretically might impact the Seahawks more than some others.
Conversely, nothing about this year figures to be normal, so trying to predict how teams will be impacted on the field by changes that will need to be made to try to play a season is obviously just a guess.
And to Carroll, games of any type will be better than no games at all.
“Whatever has to happen,’’ Carroll said earlier this spring. “Everybody needs to be wide open and ready to adapt and all of that and all aspects of our lives right now and certainly as we approach the season, we are going to have to be prepared. There’s still a great opportunity to show the game to our fans through the media resources. But if that’s the way it is, it will be a different experience. But it can happen.”
From a strictly football standpoint, many also speculate that the lack of preseason games — and the lack so far of having had any on-field work in the offseason — might make it harder for rookies drafted in lower rounds, or undrafted free agents, to make rosters, or for rookies of any type to make runs at starting jobs.
“I think the number one thing that it changes is the opportunity for the young guys to show themselves,” Carroll said recently of the potential of fewer, or no, preseason games. “… there just might not be enough time to really give them the chance. So they might be behind in that area a little bit. … Maybe the free agent doesn’t get as many opportunities as he needs to show.’’
Conversely, the addition of two additional spots on gameday rosters for practice squad players and as many as six more spots on the practice squad overall (with the league possibly increasing each even more) may at least come at a good time to open up a few more opportunities for young players. And there’s always going to be a healthy need for players who are at the bottom of the pay scale to fill out the final roster spots.
But exactly how it will all unfold no one really knows just yet.
“It won’t feel normal because it won’t be normal,” Sills said to reporters last week, as quoted by NFL.com, in discussing how training camp and the preseason will unfold.
Potentially setting up a season when the mere existence of games themselves might represent the biggest victory of all.