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NFL

Of Course Being Vaccinated Makes NFL Players More Valuable

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - JULY 29: head coach Urban Meyer of the Jacksonville Jaguars reacts during Training Camp at TIAA Bank Field on July 29, 2021 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)
James Gilbert/Getty Images

If you were running a football team, you’d probably prefer your football players to be able to play in as many football games as possible, right? If a player had a recurring or lingering injury, say, you’d take that into account when deciding whether or not to sign him. If he had a pending suspension, that’d play a role in your roster decisions. If he came to you and said, “I might take a game or three off later this season, but don’t worry, I’ll let you know a couple of days before I do,” you might not be thrilled. The point is, players tend to be more useful to an NFL team when they play. This feels uncontroversial.

Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 makes players more likely to play. They are less likely to get infected; if infected, they are less likely to get sick; if sick they are less likely to be seriously ill or have an extended illness. Perhaps even more relevant than that for the purposes of players playing games, the NFL/NFLPA–agreed upon vaccination rules ensure that a vaccinated player who spends time around an infected person but does not get sick will be able to get on with their life and their job, whereas an unvaccinated player who comes near an infected person, whether or not they themselves are infected, will probably have to miss at least one game. It would be stupid to pretend this distinction isn’t real and significant to NFL coaches and personnel men, especially as they make the last few cuts to get to a 53-man roster, where every edge a player can muster over the competition can be crucial. “Availability” is an edge, and a big one.

Tuesday was the NFL deadline for cutdowns, and new Jaguars coach Urban Meyer said—”said,” not “admitted,” because that would imply some level of shamefulness and there’s none here—that when it came to carving out Jacksonville’s roster, vaccination status mattered. It was not the only thing that mattered, or the thing that mattered the most, but it mattered. Because of course it did!

“Everyone was considered,” Meyer said. ”That was part of the production, let’s start talking about this, and then also is he vaccinated or not. Can I say that was a decision-maker? It was certainly in consideration.”   

Meyer brought up, as a cautionary example, the status of Jags DE Josh Allen, who was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list on Aug. 23 and could not come off until yesterday, missing two preseason games. “He’s not played in two weeks,” Meyer said. “So, he’s never had COVID. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that, but he’s never had COVID. So that’s pretty punitive.”

Per the rules, vaccinated players, if exposed to someone who tests positive, must wear a mask and be tested daily for five days, but aren’t forced to miss time. Unvaccinated players—like Allen—must quarantine for 10 days after exposure to someone who tests positive, because the league designated them “high-risk” contacts. Which they are. Because they’re not vaccinated. Again, this is simple stuff, but the implications are profound. If an unvaccinated player was exposed today, for example, he wouldn’t be able to play in Week 1.

A coach would be remiss if they didn’t take this into account. Meyer’s just the only one so far honest or unguarded enough to say it.

I’m rolling my eyes at “savvy.”

So naturally the NFLPA has already announced it’s opening an investigation into Meyer’s comments. Which is a little annoying, but whatever, I get it, the union’s doing its job. I also expect nothing to come of it. Back in May, Bills GM Brandon Beane got a call from the league office reminding him, after his comments in a radio interview, that teams cannot release players solely for their vaccination status. Meyer made clear that it’s one factor of many, so he should be in the clear.

That’s just common sense. Kirk Cousins isn’t getting cut. Cole Beasley isn’t getting cut. DeAndre Hopkins isn’t getting cut. But what if you are, say, in competition for the fifth linebacker spot on the Jaguars, and you haven’t done quite enough in camp to separate yourself from the other contenders for the job? There are already many extremely good reasons for any human to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Here’s one more.