If there’s one thing that head coach Robert Saleh and his staff have made clear from day one, it’s that they want to put the players first.
Even Joe Douglas said he wants to be the type of general manager that forms relationships with his players. The Jets head honcho has been a bit harsher on his personnel in contract negotiations, however, when you consider the Jamison Crowder and Marcus Maye sagas this offseason.
All this type of talk is great in a press conference, but it’s more important that the Jets practice what they preach when adverse situations arise. After a recent controversial NFL rule change, the first real test may be at Douglas and Saleh’s doorstep.
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Non-Vaccinated Outbreaks Can Result in Forfeited Games
In a move that is surely considered bold by some and harsh by others, the NFL has elected to judge vaccinated COVID-19 outbreaks differently from unvaccinated ones.
Basically, an outbreak traced back to unvaccinated players or staff members can result in a forfeit that would include a one-game pay-dock of the entire roster. Below is the exact quote from the league regarding their stance on vaccinations in 2021.
“If a game is cancelled/postponed because a club cannot play due to a Covid spike among or resulting from its non-vaccinated players/staff, then the burden of the cancellation or delay will fall on the club experiencing the Covid infection… If a club cannot play due to a Covid spike in vaccinated individuals, we will attempt to minimize the competitive and economic burden on both participating teams.”
This declaration appears to be final and whether you’re pro-vaccine, anti-vaccine, or don’t care so long as it doesn’t impact the football season, it’s here to stay.
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Ramifications Around League Provide Test for Saleh
The Green and White have been pretty buttoned up when it comes to talking about vaccinations. Saleh set the standard, publicly stating that the franchise is leaving it up to “personal choice.”
“The comfort lies in preparation and making sure that we’re scheduled the right way and we have things blocked off so there [are] no hiccups,” the Jets HC told reporters, “I’m very comfortable in the way we’ve been able to take what protocols have been given and make sure that the scheduling fits in a way that we shouldn’t have a hiccup.”
This debate has not been so peaceful around the league. Former Jets offensive line coach Rich Dennison was reportedly relieved of his duties with the Minnesota Vikings after refusing to receive the vaccine. The first casualty of this rule change, but not the last.
The New England Patriots followed suit, announcing that co-offensive line coach Cole Popovich would no longer be with the organization due to a similar refusal.
Although we have yet to see a player cut because they are unvaccinated, it feels like it’s only a matter of time with the early stages of training camp now underway. Teams would never admit that a player was released for this reason of course, but it could become a determining factor used to separate one bubble candidate from the next.
Credit Saleh and Gang Green for being respectful and discreet about this topic. Some franchises have been less fortunate. Case and point, the division rival Buffalo Bills, whose vaccination discussion has become quite public.
Similar to Cole Beasley, other stars like DeAndre Hopkins of the Arizona Cardinals and Matt Judon of the Patriots have also been very vocal against the NFL’s newest rule.
No matter what happens regarding vaccinations, a head coach’s top priority should be to keep the conversation in-house. The situation in Buffalo is a perfect example of why. Football is a team sport built on chemistry and locker room feuds are never good for business.
Player Reactions From Jets
As is always the case with football, the quarterback is under the microscope more often than not. Reporters asked Zach Wilson whether or not he was vaccinated and the rookie had a very level-headed response.
Even if Wilson got the vaccine, this type of answer doesn’t alienate teammates who are against it. As we’ve seen time and time again since draft night, the BYU product displayed that he is wise beyond his years.
“The team has made vaccinations available to guys that want it and that’s pretty much been it,” Van Roten explained. Rich Cimini of ESPN followed up by asking if there was any reluctance from Jets teammates.
GVR responded: “Yeah I think guys in general just don’t like to be told what to do and people want to do their research and see like what’s the long-term effects and if it was rushed and the FDA emergency status, so there’s a lot of stuff that goes into it and a lot of guys just want to play football and not be bothered with it, which I understand and appreciate.”
He ended by echoing Saleh and Wilson: “It’s a personal choice for a lot of people and I don’t even know where we stand as a team honestly, as far as the thresholds are concerned.”
Van Roten was referring to the percentage of Jets players that have received the vaccine, which has reached 80% league-wide.