NFL's COVID protocols for 2021 allow vaccinated players to operate without restrictions in preseason

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NFL players who have received the COVID-19 vaccine will operate without restrictions during training camp and the 2021 NFL preseason. 

The league released its updated COVID-19 protocols Wednesday, and vaccinated players can mostly operate as normal in 2021, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.

What does "normal" mean in 2021? Players who are fully vaccinated won't have to submit to daily COVID-19 tests, won't have to wear masks or practice social distancing at team facilities, and will not have to quarantine after being exposed to the virus. 

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In addition to that, players who are vaccinated will be allowed to eat with teammates and can interact with friends and family while on the road.

Conversely, players who are not vaccinated will have to adhere to many of the restrictions put in place last season. Players who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine will be tested everyday, must wear a mask and maintain social distancing and will quarantine after being exposed to the virus. Unvaccinated players cannot eat with teammates, take part in certain team marketing efforts or leave their hotel while on the road. 

Unvaccinated players will also not be allowed to gather away from team facilities unless approved by the league or NFLPA.

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Unvaccinated players who break those rules will face steep fines for their first offense. Punishments will escalate if players are repeat offenders. 

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The policy includes only training camp and the preseason for now. It's unclear whether the league will carry over this policy into the regular season.

NFL's COVID policy incentivizes players to receive vaccine

While the league isn't mandating players receive the COVID-19 vaccine, there are clear advantages for players who are vaccinated. Being able to gather close with teammates — both on and away from the field — is significant. Quarterbacks can develop a better rapport with rookie wide receivers. Players who are new to the team can study the playbook together. That could be the difference between a late-round rookie making the team or getting cut. 

For players who avoid answering questions about the vaccine due to privacy — like Kirk Cousins and Sam Darnold —the new protocols will answer those questions. If Cousins, who said Wednesday he would keep his vaccination status private, shows up to minicamp wearing a mask, people will know he hasn't received the vaccine yet. The same goes for Darnold, who said he'll tell only family his vaccination status

In May, Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane said it would be easier for him to cut a player who wasn't vaccinated. Beane spoke of the advantages of holding team meetings as an incentive for players to be vaccinated. 

Now that those advantages have been fully laid out by the league — at least through the preseason — it will be interesting to see if other general managers express similar sentiments. 

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