Sills: No timeline for when players can return to team facilities

On the day that some NFL teams began to reopen their facilities, the league's chief medical officer declined to put a timeline on when players could return and football activities could resume. 

"We are not putting dates on the calendar at this point," Dr. Allen Sills said. 

Sills said that in response to a question about whether it is still possible that players could be brought back in time for the traditional June mini-camps. Team owners held a virtual meeting Tuesday, at which the progress of a return for football was discussed. Offseason work has been conducted remotely so far, but ever since facilities were shut down in mid-March, there has been an expectation among some coaches and executives that players would likely not be able to report to team facilities until training camp. 

The NFL is taking a phased-in approach to returning -- Sills said he talks about walking, then jogging, then running -- allowing facilities to open this week only if they are in accordance with local rules and only for a limited number of staff members. Only a handful of teams opened on Tuesday, and this is being viewed as a soft opening, an opportunity for everyone to get comfortable with the protocols that have been put in place, including temperature checks and the wearing of masks. Coaches are prohibited from returning in an effort to maintain competitive equity until all facilities are re-opened. Still, there are those in and around the league who believe that if the league hopes to stay on schedule to begin the season in September, it is likely that some inequities might have to be tolerated.

Jeff Pash, the league's general counsel, said the goal would be to maintain competitive equity.

"Competitive issues are always important and they always are considered in a way to try to preserve equitable treatment of all 32 clubs," he said. "And certainly, our goal will be to have all 32 clubs operating on a consistent basis."

In the meantime, the NFL is discussing with the players' union the protocols necessary for the return of players, including testing for the novel coronavirus. Sills acknowledged that even as the league is watching how other sports leagues are trying to return, football presents some special challenges. Football and physical distancing are not compatible, he noted.

And Sills acknowledged a sobering reality, stating: "We fully expect we will have positive cases that will arise."

The other issue that dominated the owners' meeting was diversity in hiring, a problem that has only become more glaring in recent years. The league currently has just two general managers who are members of a minority group and just four head coaches. Owners approved a slate intended to improve minority hiring, but tabled a proposal that would have rewarded teams which hire a minority head coach or general manager with improved third-round draft position. Pittsburgh Steelers Owner Art Rooney II, who chairs the league's diversity committee, and Commissioner Roger Goodell said the proposal generated discussion that produced a number of other ideas about how to reward teams and the resolution was tabled so those ideas could be more fully developed before owners vote on further changes.

The most significant improvement was a resolution that will prohibit teams from blocking assistant coaches from interviewing for coordinator positions. Assistant coaches were faced with the choice of allowing their contracts to expire so they could take coordinator interviews. The increased freedom to interview should improve the pipeline for young coaches.

Goodell said he did not think the league was finished making adjustments in an attempt to get better results during the next hiring cycle and he made clear his frustration with the current state of hiring.

"Just from my perspective, we're not satisfied with where we are," he said. "We know we should and can do better."

Troy Vincent, the league's executive vice president of football operations, was more pointed: "The facts are we have a broken system."

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