With the COVID-19 pandemic keeping players and coaches away from their facilities since March, the NFL has decided to slim down the normal preseason schedule this year to give teams more times to acclimate to playing with their teams during training camp.
On Wednesday, it was reported by Pro Football Talk that the NFL is cutting the preseason games reportedly scheduled for weeks one and four. Previously, the NFL had canceled the August 8th Hall of Fame Game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys. The NFL still plans to begin the season on September 10th – whether or not fans will be in the stands for either the preseason or the regular season remains to be seen. There has already been a report that the NFL would require liability waivers to be signed for fans to attend games.
While the NFL is expected to cut the preseason in half, the NFLPA hasn’t signed off on it according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. Also according to Garafolo, the union is wondering if it is smart to play any preseason games at all.
A majority of teams will report to training camp on July 28, including the Panthers – but the first preseason games won’t be played until the week of August 20-24 with the second week of preseason games scheduled for the week of the 27-31. The Panthers are currently scheduled to travel to New England to face former QB Cam Newton on August 20th and to Baltimore and take on 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson on the 30th.
This schedule change would give teams around 23 days between the start of training camp and their first preseason game. Because teams didn’t have the offseason to evaluate players on their roster, coaches will now have extra time to judge the talent they have before they start playing games – it may also allow the pandemic numbers in North Carolina, which has seen numbers climbing since reopening the state in May, the opportunity to slow down,
North Carolina remains in Phase 2 of reopening, which only allows gatherings of 25 people at a time in outside areas.
Reportedly, every team will play one home game and one on the road this preseason. For the Carolina Panthers, that means the league will have to alter their preseason schedule a bit. Carolina had been scheduled to host the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Steelers in Weeks 1 and 4 of the preseason while the Panthers would travel to take on the Patriots and the Ravens in Weeks 2 and 3. But with the cancellation of two games, the Panthers will need to find a preseason opponent to host – if only to give the stadium operations a chance to see what a game looks like in the COVID-19 era.
Panthers head coach Matt Rhule says he will be prepared for whatever preparations the team needs to make.
“What’s best practice now might not be in 30 days. So it’s an ever-evolving group,” Rhule said last month. “That being said, I think when the time comes, whatever the cutting-edge technologies, whatever the best practice is, whatever the safest way we can do things, I’m sure that they’ll do.”
All 32 NFL facilities have been closed all offseason – along with gyms, and other place where players tend to work out. The league standard preseason has been four games since it was reduced in 1978. Once the NFL expands its regular season to 17 games either in 2021 or 2022, the preseason will be shortened to no more than three games a year.
Also, because of COVID-19, the Panthers and other NFL teams that usually travel to different cities for their training camp practice will not be able to this summer. This means for the Panthers, they will hold training camp at their Charlotte headquarters for the first time in franchise history instead of Wofford College in Spartanburg. Carolina hopes they will be able to return to South Carolina in 2021 before the completion of its new headquarters in 2022, but whether that is feasible remains to be seen.
Rhule said he and the team have been putting together plans to make training camp work in the COVID-19 world.
“Do we meet at certain different parts of the stadium?” Rhule asked. “The practice is one thing, but the meetings, the locker rooms are a whole another. We are just in the process of trying to make all of those things work. In terms of practices, as we get close as with anything, more information will come out. Maybe the NFL will give us some guidelines. I think my job is to be the most flexible head coach.”
“One thing I know is that we have the right people at the Carolina Panthers that are not just living up to the policies and the protocols, but that we are doing a great job of making sure that we are as safe and healthy as we can be.”