2021 NFL COVID rules: Teams will forfeit due to outbreak if game can't be rescheduled during 18-week season

We could see forfeits in the NFL this season if there are COVID outbreaks on teams.
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Almost by miracle, the NFL managed to get in every regular-season game (256 of them) in 2020 in the middle of the COVID pandemic – although a handful of them had to be rescheduled and we saw games on Tuesdays. However, the league is really pushing players to be vaccinated this year and there apparently will be a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to potential outbreaks.

Today, the league informed the 32 teams that if a game cannot be rescheduled during the 18-week season due to a COVID outbreak among unvaccinated players, the team with the outbreak will forfeit said game and be credited with a loss. The forfeiting team also could face financial penalties and possible additional sanctions if protocols violated. Even more interestingly in a forfeit, players on both teams don't get paid. That's the NFL again saying: GET VACCINATED.

With the additional 17th game this season (now 272 total games) but no additional bye week, it's going to be that much harder to reschedule a postponed game due to COVID.

According to Judy Battista of NFL Media, there are currently 14 teams with at least 85 percent of their players vaccinated – teams that reach 85 percent are free of nearly all restrictions. It's not clear which those 14 teams are, but it was reported recently that the Dallas Cowboys were not one of them. It was also reported about a week ago that Washington, Arizona, Indianapolis and the Los Angeles Chargers were under 50 percent vaccination.

More than 78 percent of players in the league have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccinated players will be tested once every 14 days while unvaccinated players are tested daily. Non-vaccinated players also must wear masks, have limits on in-person meetings, are barred from eating in the cafeteria, etc.

"It definitely poses a competitive advantage for higher vaccine rates on your team, just because of the close contact rates and what happens if somebody does unfortunately get COVID and what can happen to the rest of the building," Browns QB Baker Mayfield said this week.

Bills receiver Cole Beasley has been perhaps the most outspoken player in his opposition to the vaccine and coronavirus-related protocols, to the point that many think the Bills may release him. Some are calling this the "Cole Beasley Rule" on social media, and his name is definitely trending. 

There has never been an official forfeit of a modern-day NFL game.

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SportsLine Staff