The COVID-19 pandemic changed the world in many ways. From a football perspective, it started with the 2020 NFL draft getting conducted from Roger Goodell’s basement. Then, with team facilities shut down due to social distancing measures, NFL players had to resort to creative training methods to stay in shape. And now, just two weeks into the 2020 NFL season, it has become abundantly clear that the pandemic has already had a brutal effect on the league as players continue to sustain injuries at an alarming rate.
The COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed the NFL offseason
For NFL players, the offseason gives them an opportunity to prepare their bodies for playing on Sundays. However, the COVID-19 pandemic radically changed the way NFL teams conducted business over the last few months. Due to social distancing protocols, players could not work out at their team’s facilities. Instead, they had to find alternative ways to physically prepare for the 2020 NFL season.
For Kirk Cousins, that meant going back home to train in his parents’ driveway. The highly-paid Minnesota Vikings quarterback, along with his wife and two sons, returned to Orlando in the spring. Instead of training alongside his teammates in a world-class facility, Cousins utilized simple workout equipment to work up a sweat from his parents’ driveway.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver James Washington resorted to a unique training method of his own due to the pandemic. The 2018 second-round pick spent the summer working out on his farm in Abilene, Texas. Pittsburgh’s deep-ball artist retrieved dumbbells from his parents’ house and even got a Jugs machine to work on his hands.
In Baltimore, Ravens players still had to pass a brutal conditioning test. However, Lamar Jackson and his teammates had to record themselves undertaking the test rather than run it together due to the pandemic.
Overall, NFL players faced a tremendous challenge in preparing their bodies for the 2020 NFL season because of the impact of COVID-19.
NFL players keep getting hurt
After rejoining their teammates for training camp, NFL players finally got a chance to focus on football. However, the impact of COVID-19 resulted in preseason games getting eliminated entirely. As a result, players did not get a chance to experience live contact in a competitive situation other than what their respective teams did in training camp.
Unfortunately for some of the NFL’s top stars, their season already ended before it really began. Through two weeks of the 2020 NFL season, a startling number of players have sustained significant injuries. In fact, the league has seen some of its most talented young stars suffer season-ending injuries before Week 3.
The San Francisco 49ers have been hit hardest by the injury bug. Nick Bosa tore his ACL on Sunday, which represents a devastating blow to the team’s Super Bowl hopes. Solomon Thomas also tore his ACL. Plus, Jimmy Garoppolo, Raheem Mostert, and Tevin Coleman all got banged up in Sunday’s win over the New York Jets.
In addition, Pro Bowl running back Saquon Barkley’s season is over due to a significant knee injury. Seattle defenders Marquise Blaire and Bruce Irvin will also miss the rest of the season after sustaining ACL tears on Sunday. Ravens CB Tavon Young also tore his ACL this weekend.
Throw in Mike Pouncey (hip surgery), Courtland Sutton (torn ACL), and Anthony Barr (torn pec), and it’s stunning how many NFL players have already been sidelined for the year.
The brutal impact of COVID-19 has changed the outlook of the 2020 NFL season
Does the NFL’s rash of early injuries mean COVID-19 is to blame? While the league has done well to keep positive cases to a minimum, it seems reasonable to draw a line between the number of serious injuries sustained and an offseason that got dramatically altered due to the pandemic.
Players may have put in ample time to prepare their bodies for the season, but the lack of preseason games, a shortened training camp, and a lack of OTAs and minicamps cannot be ignored. Ultimately, the pandemic changed the way NFL teams operated, and it does not seem like a pure coincidence that so many players have gotten hurt this early in the season.
The brutal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has already changed the outlook for several franchises. The 49ers no longer look like the favorite to win the NFC after losing their best player. The Saints do not look nearly as imposing on offense without Michael Thomas, who has been sidelined with an ankle injury.
The Broncos entered the year as an exciting team on the rise. But after losing Sutton for the season, and with quarterback Drew Lock out with a shoulder injury, that puts a damper on expectations in Denver.
In Carolina, the Panthers will have to figure out a way to score points without Christian McCaffrey, who sustained a high-ankle injury that will sideline him for multiple weeks. That represents a major setback in the first year of the Matt Rhule era.
We may never know all the ways COVID-19 impacted the 2020 NFL season. But it seems clear that the pandemic’s effect on the offseason program has put players in a disadvantageous position.
And now, they’re paying for it with their bodies.