Like 31 other NFL teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars announced their 53-man roster for the 2021-22 season on Tuesday.
Usually, deciding which player makes the cut comes down to their current talent, their future potential, their contract status and the quality of the other players at their position. In a pandemic, however, there was apparently another consideration to make.
Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer told reporters that whether or not a player is vaccinated was considered when deciding who made the cut:
"Everyone was considered. [Vaccination status] was part of the the production, ‘Let’s start talking about this, and also is he vaccinated or not?’ Can I say that that was a decision maker? It was certainly in consideration."
It’s not a surprise to hear a coach would include a player’s vaccination or lack thereof in his deliberations. The NFL basically guaranteed that would be how the system works this year with its stringent protocols for unvaccinated players.
Unfortunately for Meyer, that might have been something better left unsaid.
NFLPA investigating Urban Meyer’s comments
One entity not happy with Meyer admitting vaccination status played a role in roster cuts is the NFL Players Association, whose spokesman said the following in a text to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio:
“These comments have led us to open an investigation.”
Per PFT, the rules currently prohibit considering vaccination status in making employment decisions. This came up when Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane said he would cut an unvaccinated player, which led to a rebuke from NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and a talking-to from the NFL.
Still, Meyer probably wouldn’t be alone in considering vaccination status. He’s just the only one who said it out loud.
Why an NFL team would want a vaccinated player over an unvaccinated player
As things currently stand, players who choose to remain unvaccinated are opening themselves and their team to a good bit of trouble thanks to the NFL’s COVID-19 policies, considered the most strict in major American sports.
Unvaccinated players are forced to undergo daily testing, constantly wear masks and social distance, quarantine after exposure to COVID-19, face fines of nearly $15,000 for each break in protocol and are sidelined if they miss even one test. Teams are also able to relax protocols if they reach a certain threshold of vaccination, something that took the Jaguars a while to accomplish.
Meyer mentioned the trouble the Jaguars had with a player who wasn’t cut, Pro Bowl pass rusher Josh Allen, when asked about the NFL’s punitive policies. Allen just returned to the team from a stint on the COVID-19 list that caused him to miss two preseason games:
"Well Josh Allen’s never had it. He’s not played in two weeks. So he’s never had COVID. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that, but he’s never had COVID. So that’s pretty punitive."
Most importantly, an unvaccinated player or group of unvaccinated players can trigger absolute chaos if they are at the center of a COVID-19 outbreak. Teams with unvaccinated outbreaks face forfeits if a game cannot be rescheduled as well as financial penalties for the organization and the players themselves.
With all that hanging over the head of unvaccinated players, which coach wouldn’t consider vaccination status when deciding between candidates for, say, a back-up guard or third-string cornerback? What team would want a player who could disappear for a week or cost it a game over a player with similar value otherwise?
This is what happens when you combine a "win at all costs" mentality with policies that cause unvaccinated players to be a risk to winning.