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The NFL scouting combination sent a note Monday night to all potential NFL players attending next month’s annual pre-draft event in Indianapolis, reviewing its COVID-19 protocol policies and procedures.
The memo, obtained by ESPN’s Adam Schefterfocuses on wearing masks for both players and medical staff, as well as defining the safe areas of the event, which are important points of contention among the players’ agents.
“As has been the case throughout the pandemic, we continue to develop our combined policies and procedures in consultation with medical experts,” the memo said. “While masks are still required for air travel and during medical examinations on the combine (players and medical staff), it is recommended, but not required, to wear a mask at other times while they are on site.
“We encourage all players to stay within the safe combine areas at all times for your safety. However, if you would like to leave the safe areas at leisure in your schedule, you are now allowed to do so at your own risk.”
The memo landed a few hours after the potential for player boycott hit the news Monday morning. Sources told ESPN’s Dan Graziano that a group of gaming agents threatened to organize a boycott of certain key elements of the combination if its concerns about a COVID-19 “bubble” continued to be ignored.
But not all agents were in that group.
“I understand their complaints, and they want to take their coaches to the combine, and they might want access to their agent. They can have family members. And they can have a whole support group for both their physical and emotional health – – and the NFL. “The rules seem unnecessarily restrictive,” Agent Leigh Steinberg said Monday. “That said, we want to send our players because this is the Super Bowl of scouting events. And you have players who have worked all their lives to prepare for the NFL draft.”
The NFL sent a note last week to draft prospectuses and their agents outlining rules for the combine, including a bubble that would prevent prospects from interacting with their personal trainers, doctors, nutritionists and agents while in Indianapolis. Monday night’s note contained changes to further accommodate the players – and their training teams – at the event.
“If you prefer to remain in the safe areas and have your approved medical support staff (physiotherapist, massage therapist or approved athletic trainer) enter the safe area to provide medical treatments, please follow the previously announced procedure and complete the form in Teamworks (if you have not already done so), “the statement added.
This appears to be a direct result of pushback from the group of agents representing more than 150 of the 324 invited leads. They said they would keep their players out of combine drills and interviews if the league did not give in to the original plans. These players would, if the boycott was implemented, only participate in the medical evaluations on the combine. They would make their combine harvesters on their individual pro days instead of in Indianapolis.
Late on Sunday night, agents and the NFL discussed the concerns in an attempt to avoid announcing the boycott, which the agents involved tentatively planned for Monday, sources close to the situation told Graziano.
On Sunday, the NFLPA issued a note to player agents in support of the idea that players should skip the combine, an event it described as “outdated” and whose existence the union has long opposed.
Inbound Lead Agents provide these players at their own expense with coaches, nutritionists and other specialists as part of their preparation for the grueling week-long event where they are measured, weighed, interviewed and tested on various skills. Agents have been protesting against recent changes that have shifted some primetime drills to TV purposes and compressed the time players have to get everything done while in Indy.
Agents were particularly opposed to the idea of the bubble, which would prevent players from interacting with some of the key people tasked with making sure they are best for the combine week. A source close to the situation said the nutritional aspect was among the most disruptive as many of the prospects are trying to reach certain weights in time for the combine and that effort could be disrupted by the league’s decision at the last minute to be the only supplier of food to leads at the event.
Discussions continued throughout Monday in an attempt to reach a compromise, which ultimately led to the combine’s decision and final release of the statement.
Last year’s combine was rejected due to coronavirus, as were personal visits, which led teams to rely on athletes’ professional days when drafting their evaluations. This year’s combine is scheduled to run 1-7. March.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.