The NFL warned teams in a Thursday memo that they could be forced forfeit games this season if they are unable to play due to outbreaks among players not vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“If a game cannot be rescheduled within the current 18-week schedule and is cancelled due to a Covid outbreak among non-vaccinated players on one of the competing teams, the club with the outbreak will forfeit the contest and will be deemed to have played 16 games for purposes of draft, waiver priority, etc,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a league memo obtained by The Hill.
“For the purposes of playoff seeding, the forfeiting team will be credited with a loss and the other team will be credited with a win.”
Goodell added that players on both teams would lose earnings from the fortified contest, and that he "retains the authority to impose additional sanctions, particularly if the Covid outbreak is reasonably determined to be the result of a failure by club personnel to follow applicable protocols."
The league is keeping in place its coronavirus protocols from last year, under which an unvaccinated player or staff member who tests positive for the virus will have to self-isolate for ten days, while vaccinated personnel who test positive can return to full activities "if they have two negative tests at least 24-hours apart," according to the memo.
Some current and former NFL players promptly voiced their displeasure with the league's memo.
"The NFLPA F------ sucks," New England Patriots outside linebacker Matthew Judon wrote on Twitter, referring to the league's player's association.
Former quarterback Derek Anderson said he would "retire tomorrow" if he were still in the game, writing that the league shouldn't force players to get an "emergency use vax that's unproven."
And in a since-deleted tweet, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins said that "being put in a position to hurt my team because I don’t want to partake in the vaccine is making me question my future in the @Nfl.”
The NFL says that more than 75 percent of its players are in the process of getting vaccinated and more than half of its clubs have more than 80 percent of their players vaccinated.
The Associated Press reported a week ago that four NFL squads — the Washington Football Team, Indianapolis Colts, Cardinals and Los Angeles Chargers — have less than 50 percent of their players vaccinated.
Multiple NFL games were postponed or canceled last season amid the pandemic.