TAMPA, Fla. — Will the NFL return to normal for the 2021 season?Roger Goodell had no declarations about that on Thursday during his annual State of
TAMPA, Fla. — Will the NFL return to normal for the 2021 season?
Roger Goodell had no declarations about that on Thursday during his annual State of the NFL news conference in advance of Super Bowl 55.
“I wish I knew the answer to that,” the NFL commissioner said. “I think one of the things I have learned and I think all of us have learned is try not to look too far in advance, because it’s difficult to do.”
Goodell and his league can take solace in the fact that despite the challenges of the pandemic, they managed to pull off a complete season (sans the preseason and Pro Bowl) that culminates Sunday with a premier matchup: the legendary Tom Brady leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs, triggered by rising star Patrick Mahomes.
Undoubtedly, the strict protocols instituted by the league and the NFL Players Association — and adjustments along the way because of several outbreaks — provided lessons and insight for the road map ahead.
“Wait as long as you possibly can, be prepared for uncertainties and find solutions,” Goodell said of the approach. “I don’t know when normal will occur again, and I don’t know if normal ever will again. I know this: We have learned to operate in a very difficult environment. We have found solutions, and we’ll do it again.”
Goodell addressed an extremely limited number of reporters, about 20, on an outdoor plaza at Amalie Arena for a news conference that was also accessible to media via video conferencing. That was one example of the types of tweaks the NFL has executed throughout a season where many games were played inside empty stadiums. The attendance for Super Bowl 55 will be capped at roughly 25,000, including the 7,500 vaccinated front-line healthcare workers who were given tickets as invited guests of the league.
League-wide, the NFL totaled 1.2 million in attendance, with specific capacities limited by local authorities. As distribution of the vaccine continues across the nation, Goodell said it’s “far too early” to project whether the league would require vaccinations for all fans attending games or, for that matter, all players.
“It’s too early to say whether vaccines will be part of the solution,” he said. “We expect that they will, we hope that much of our society will be vaccinated by the summer, because it’s in the best interest of our country, the health of our people. We’ll adapt.”
Among the many topics discussed during the 50-minute session:
On the latest hiring cycle for coaches, with two coaches of color hired for the seven openings: “It wasn’t what we expected and it’s not what we expect going forward,” Goodell said.
When the NFL instituted the Rooney Rule in 2003, there were three Black head coaches — the same number the league will head into the 2021 season with. Keep in mind, more than 70% of the players in the league are Black.
Over the past four hiring cycles, four Black coaches were hired for 27 openings. Goodell said he will have discussions with candidates (both those hired and not hired for top jobs) and with teams to assess the latest hiring cycle. He pointed to the hiring of three Black GMs and an increasing number of coordinators who are people of color as positives to build on.
“We want it to be a natural process,” Goodell said. “We want it to be a process where we believe diversity is making us better.”
On charges of bias against retired Black players in receiving benefits from the concussion settlement: Goodell maintained that the agreement is overseen by a federal court and that the league is not involved in the implementation of settlement claims. “Obviously, we’ll work with the court. We’ll continue to see if there are changes that need to be made. But those will be defined by the court.”
On whether the NFL will implement a 17-game season in 2021, an option gained in the new collective bargaining agreement with the NFLPA that was struck last March: “We are looking at the 17-game season,” Goodell said. “There’s still more work to be done on that. Once the (Super Bowl) is done, we’ll turn our focus to that. Even though we have that option, we’re going to continue to talk.”
The NFL intends to schedule international games in 2021 for London and Mexico but is in a wait-and-see mode. Goodell said a factor for scrapping the international games in 2020 was the inability for the league to institute its stadium protocols in the various venues outside of the U.S. “If at any point in time we don’t think we can execute that safely, we’ll make that determination,” Goodell said.
On Tampa’s chances of landing another Super Bowl soon, given how the pandemic wiped out significant financial benefits of hosting this year’s game: After Los Angeles and Glendale, Arizona, the next two years, the site of the 2024 game is undetermined. New Orleans will host the 2025 game. Beyond that, there are no other Super Bowl site commitments.
“It’s ultimately an ownership vote,” Goodell said, “but I think everyone knows the unique circumstances that we faced this season. They also know how extraordinary Tampa has been in working through that. I think that’ll be a big consideration in their minds when they do sit down and vote.”