Although COVID-19 is continuing to cause significant disruption in the United States, professional sports are getting back on the fields much to the delight of fans nationwide. Earlier this week, the NBA resumed play at Disney in Orlando, FL operating from a bubble environment that keeps players, coaches, personnel and media confined to specific areas of the resort. Thus far, despite daily testing no one within the bubble has tested positive for Coronavirus. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for baseball where the season appears to be in jeopardy after multiple players from the Florida Marlins and St Louis Cardinals tested positive for the virus. When the NFL looks to begin their season in early September, they'll be traveling nationwide like baseball - as opposed to a bubble - but will hope to avoid the pitfalls that MLB is currently facing.
Specifically for the New England Patriots, the team has been hit hard with players opting to sit out the upcoming season to protect their health and their families' health. To date, 8 players have informed head coach Bill Belichick of their decision not to play. For players that want to sit out, the NFL is offering two options. First, players that have a preexisting health condition like cancer, heart disease or asthma that makes them higher risk for complications from COVID-19, will receive a $350,000 stipend and have their contracts be delayed for a year. In short, if a player is in year two of a four year contract them the second year will resume in the 2021 season. Second, players that opt out voluntarily receive a $150,000 stipend assuming that they are under contract for the following year or eligible for a tender offer.
For a New England Patriots team that is already entering the new season without their star QB Tom Brady who joined the Tampa Bay Bucaneers in the off-season, the loss of key players like Brandon Bolden, Marqise Lee, Patrick Chung, Marcus Cannon, Danny Vitale and Najee Toran may leave the Patriots in a tough spot to start the season. With 8 players through Sunday opting out, the Patriots easily lead the NFL in Coronavirus holdouts.
Unsurprisingly, Belichick and teammates have pledged support for those that are opting out of the season and look forward to welcoming that back next year. News of all the Patriots' holdouts has left some skeptics around the league vocalizing a rumor that the team is looking to tank in the hope of landing the first pick in the 2021 draft to take Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence. However, the Patriots went all in this off season on the low risk high reward signing of Cam Newton to replace Brady and appear committed to giving the former MVP a chance to regain the magic that helped him lead the Carolina Panthers to Super Bowl 50 in 2015 that ended in a loss to the Denver Broncos.