The NFL is expected to shorten its preseason from four games to two because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to multiple news media reports.
The league had already canceled the Hall of Fame Game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys, scheduled for Aug. 6. Week 1 of the preseason was supposed to be Aug. 13-16.
Now, according to reports by ESPN and the Associated Press, each team’s first preseason game will be Aug. 20-24, with the second the following week. Each team will play one home game and one on the road.
It is not known whether fans will be allowed at those games. The professional team sports returning to action this month will do so without fans in the stands.
If each team is to have one home and road game under the new preseason plan, the Vikings’ schedule would have to change. Their current Week 2 and 3 preseason games are both on the road. They were to open at home vs. Houston on Aug. 14, then play at Cincinnati Aug. 21 and at Cleveland Aug. 30 before wrapping up at home against Seattle on Sept. 3.
Last week, the NFL’s general counsel, Jeff Pash, said training camps were expected to open on schedule, on July 28.
An extra week before the start of preseason games would help players with conditioning. Reducing the schedule would also limit travel as COVID-19 cases continue to soar in many parts of the United States.
The NFL and the players union have not yet agreed on health and safety protocols for the opening of training camp. The union also would need to sign off on a new preseason schedule. According to the Associated Press, players are holding a conference call on Thursday.
“It is the responsibility of the employer to provide a safe work environment,” Browns center J.C. Tretter, the NFLPA president, said in an open letter to his membership on Tuesday. “I encourage all workers to hold their employers accountable to high standards. More so than any other sport, the game of football is the perfect storm for virus transmission. There are protections, both short and long term, that must be agreed upon before we can safely return to work.”