With masked coaches and socially distanced staff, NFL teams began padded training camp practices amid the pandemic this week, although 43-year-old Tom Brady was preoccupied with his own new problem: the Florida sun.
‘I feel like I mastered the cold weather because I’d, again, been up there [in New England] for so long and you know exactly how to do it,’ Brady, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ new quarterback, told NBC’s Peter King. ‘Here it’s a different type of inclement weather so it has its challenges because you sweat so much. But I’ll get used to that.’
Brady, who reportedly needed to towel off after every drill in the oppressive heat, signed a two-year, $50 million deal with the Bucs back in March following two decades and six Super Bowl titles with the New England Patriots.
But despite temperatures in the low 90s in Tampa on Monday, Brady remained enthusiastic about his decision to change teams for the first time in his NFL career.
‘When I added it up, Tampa seemed like it was a great opportunity,’ he said. ‘I am so happy with the decision I made…I made a decision to do something different. It was a very thoughtful decision. It wasn’t a spur of the moment thing. Really since the moment I got here they’ve embraced me. They’ve embraced me with the opportunity to go and lead the team – that’s a big responsibility for me.’
It certainly helps that Brady brought one of his favorite targets, tight end Rob Gronkowski, who came out of is brief retirement to sign a one-year, $10 million deal with the Bucs back in April.
But while seeing Brady and Gronkowski back together seems natural, most everything else about the upcoming NFL season is a departure for the league.
From the antimicrobial mist the Denver Broncos strolled through on their way to the practice fields to the hand-held whistles for masked-up coaches, NFL training camps have a very different look and feel this year.
No fans. No Gatorade buckets. No joint practices.
The league is spending tens of millions of dollars on daily COVID-19 testing, and some of the protocols put in place to navigate the coronavirus crisis have cost some prospects whatever long shot they had at making a roster.
They might have saved a life, however.
Linebacker Cam Smith tested positive for the virus when he reported to the Minnesota Vikings headquarters, and head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman recommended he get an echocardiogram.
Good thing, because the diagnostic follow-up revealed a congenital problem with his heart, which was severely enlarged. Smith is scheduled for open heart surgery on Aug. 24 and will miss the 2020 season.
‘I wouldn’t have ever known about this — or as soon as I do now- — without getting tested for COVID and testing positive in that time frame,’ Smith said. ‘It does feel like it’s a blessing in a way that I did test positive.’
The fifth-round pick out of USC last year looks forward to returning in 2021 better than ever ‘because I’ll be fixed. I’ll be better, and I’ll be in a healthier state than I have been for the past 23 years.’
The NFL is spending some $75 million on COVID-19 testing, and that’s one reason Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay agrees with the decisions by the Pac-12 and Big Ten to scrap football this fall to the chagrin of many players and coaches.
‘Honestly, it’s scary. And for those kids, they don’t have the protocols that we have,’ Lindsay said. ‘They don’t have the money to get tested every day and to have this: People come in here and clean it every day. And you have a bunch of kids that aren’t just going to sit there and listen and stay at home. They’re going to be all around, especially if they’ve got to go to class.
‘So, honestly I saw it coming. And until they can come up with (a therapy or vaccine) I don’t think those kids should play because it is real. I’ve seen people close to me that had it that have been in the hospital for seven, eight, nine days and it’s scary,’ Lindsay said. ‘And I understand where these kids are coming from, but at the end of the day it’s about being healthy, it’s about doing the right thing.’
Lindsay grew up in Denver and is a big Colorado sports fan. He’s watched superstars Von Miller of the Broncos, Nikola Jokic of the Nuggets and Charlie Blackmon of the Rockies all deal with COVID-19 infections and he’s seen outbreaks shut down offseason football programs at Colorado State and Northern Colorado.
The Big 12 and SEC are among the conferences still planning to play football this fall, and Lindsay isn’t sure it’s worth the risk because college programs don’t have the money to test like the NFL does nor can they bubble up like the NBA and NHL have done.
‘You’re just telling the kid to go out and play just for our satisfaction. That’s not cool.’