Bills head coach Sean McDermott raised concern his team could fall behind in having COVID-19 protocol restrictions loosened for the start of training camp if enough players aren’t vaccinated.
In addressing what’s become a divisive issue among several high-profile Buffalo players and at least one of their spouses on Tuesday, McDermott focused his message on attempting to educate — rather than convince, as he put it — players to get vaccinated.
Without saying how many Bills have received the vaccine, McDermott said time is running short for Buffalo to return to a sense of normalcy in terms of holding full team meetings and practices.
“I’m concerned about it. I’m being very upfront,” McDermott said during a half-hour video conference call held a day after the Bills opened their first week of voluntary practices.
“I think that time element comes into play a little bit right now, and I think, a little bit, it’s working maybe against us or against maybe more players getting it.”
He was referring to the minimum six-week period for those receiving a two-shot vaccine to be deemed fully vaccinated. The time frame will soon be pushing into the start of training camp in late July.
Fully vaccinated NFL players and tiered staff are no longer be required to wear masks inside or outside at club facilities — provided it adheres to local guidelines — as of May 14, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s easement of mask-wearing guidance for those who are fully vaccinated. Previously in May, the NFL encouraged all clubs to offer COVID-19 vaccines to rookies ahead of rookie minicamps. Those developments follow an April league announcement that fully vaccinated individuals would only be required to test on a weekly basis rather than daily and would not have to submit to “entry” testing following travel. All of these relaxed protocols will not be privy to Bills players who are not vaccinated.
The number of vaccinated players could also affect Buffalo’s proposal to resume camp at its traditional preseason site in suburban Rochester, New York, a year after all NFL teams were restricted to practicing at their own facilities.
McDermott favors holding part of camp at a remote location because it contributes to player bonding.
In calling it a personal decision, McDermott noted there are professional as well as health and safety concerns that should be considered.
“It’s kind of two-pronged, if you will, with health and safety, and there’s also what you’ve got to do to do your job,” McDermott said. “And so I think those are the two prongs of the fork right now that must be considered, and considered seriously.”
Last month, Bills quarterback Josh Allen told The Ringer podcast the decision to get vaccinated is a personal choice, while adding he was still debating whether to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
On Tuesday, Allen spoke to the media, but when asked if he had been vaccinated chose to keep his thoughts on the matter and those of his teammates “in-house.”
“With respect to that question, I know vaccines are going to be a hot topic, really throughout the remainder of the season,” the quarterback said. “We’re having conversations as a team. I’m going to keep those conversations and choices of myself and my teammates in-house.”
On Tuesday, McDermott specifically referred to tight end Tommy Sweeney as a reason players should get vaccinated. Sweeney missed the entire season after testing positive for COVID-19 and then was diagnosed with an inflamed heart, which is considered an aftereffect.
Sweeney is expected to be cleared to return this season.
The NFL and NFL Players Association are encouraging, but not mandating players to get vaccinated. The NFL, however, is considering loosening its practice and meeting restrictions for teams who reach a certain percentage of players and staff being vaccinated.
Last year, teams were limited to hosting most meetings via Zoom, with restrictions placed on how many players and coaches could gather at one time. Team officials and players were also required to undergo daily COVID-19 testing and wear masks.
The Bills had about 70 players participate for the voluntary workout. Among those not present were receiver Stefon Diggs and defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who is scheduled to rejoin the Bills after opting out from playing last season because of COVID-19 concerns.
Though questions over vaccinations can be a hot topic for some, it has been a specific source of debate with the Bills this offseason.
Earlier this month, the NFL informed teams they cannot release players simply because they are not vaccinated.
The league’s directive came in response to Bills general manager Brandon Beane hypothetically suggesting he’d consider doing so if it would provide more freedom within the team facilities for meetings and offseason programs.
Receiver Cole Beasley recently posted a series of tweets questioning vaccination and mask-wearing requirements.
Starting safety Jordan Poyer’s wife, Rachel Bush, has actively protested mask wearing and mandatory vaccination on her Twitter account. Bush is an Instagram model who has nearly 91,000 followers.
Three weeks ago, Bush deleted a post in which she noted numerous high-profile players are against receiving the vaccine, and questioned whether any push to have Bills vaccinated would become divisive.
McDermott declined comment when specifically asked about Bush’s post.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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