The Buffalo Bills are operating like there will be some sort of Covid-19 protocols in place for the 2021 season.
It remains to be seen, however, what those entail, and whether they may be relaxed if the Bills reach a certain, undefined vaccination threshold.
Either way, General Manager Brandon Beane said Monday, the issue won’t be a distraction.
“We've obviously educated our guys on as much as we have,” Beane said during a video conference with Western New York media. “It has been a hot topic, but in the building the guys have been very focused on football here. I think it's probably grown more legs outside, whether it's social media or articles.
“In here, we're all on the same page. We've had a lot of great discussion and we have a healthy locker room of guys that can be mature and have ... you know, whether which side of the fence you're on. … We don't know what the thresholds will be, but it won't be a distraction. We're excited about the season, and whatever it is, we'll deal with it at that time.”
Even as the country as a whole continues to open piece by piece, Covid-related restrictions are still in place in the NFL. Beane pointed out Monday how the team is still not able to eat lunch together, and how the sauna inside its training facility still is not open.
“There are certain things that guys just can't do,” he said. “It's better. It's less virtual stuff, more in person. I think the needle has moved, just like we're moving to full stadiums, but it's not back to 2019 yet, which we all look forward to when that happens. We're still under the impression that we're going to have through camp, some type of protocols, some type of restrictions, but I think last year taught us a lot and we'll find a way to deal with whatever they are, and it definitely won't be an excuse.”
It also won’t be a source of divisiveness.
“Where you lie on the fence – it is what it is,” Beane said, “but what I can tell you is our locker room is very strong, it’s together, and guys support each other whatever their decisions are.” And head coach Sean McDermott “and I are going to be right there to support them. It’s not going to impact our season negatively or anything like that. We’re going to make the most of it, whatever the thresholds are and whatever restrictions we have to deal with.”
The Bills have been at the center of the vaccination discussion in the NFL, dating back to quarterback Josh Allen saying on a podcast that he wasn’t as knowledgeable on the subject as he should be and continuing with wide receiver Cole Beasley expressing vaccine hesitancy on his Twitter account. Additionally, Beane answered a hypothetical question on the team’s radio show in which he said he would cut an unvaccinated player if it meant the Bills would reach the vaccine threshold that would allow them to loosen Covid rules and conduct business as usual – an advantage to the team.
Beane later spoke to both the league and the NFLPA to clarify his comments. He also spoke to some of the Bills’ leaders to make sure the context of what he was communicating was not lost.
“I think people know right now I’m brutally honest, sometimes to a fault,” he said. “But I am who I am. I think they respect that. Even if they disagree with it, that's what I respect about them that we can have these conversations. I love this locker room. I love these guys. Do I agree with every one of them on everything they do, no matter what? No. That’s OK. That's what makes the world great. It's been said a lot, I think if you could take a lot of NFL locker rooms, especially ours, and put them out in society, I think it'd be a lot better on how they handle tough issues, whether it's race, vaccines, whatever situation’s out there.”
Recently, there seems to have been a concerted effort among players to sidestep any and all vaccine-related questions. Last week, safety Jordan Poyer started his video conference by saying he would not answer any questions related to the vaccine. The week prior, both Allen and middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds refused to say whether they’ve been vaccinated.
On Monday, Beane said the team hasn’t been coached to avoid commenting on the vaccine in any way.
“Sean and I pride ourselves on the type of team that we have here and the guys we've got in this locker room,” he said. “You always deal with adversity throughout each season. Every season has ups and downs. Rarely do you go start to finish and everything was perfect. Even when you're winning games, sometimes there's things going on in a locker room or certain players deal with this or whatever. And the strong locker rooms can deal with that in a mature fashion. So, with this topic, I've been very impressed with how our guys have had an open and honest dialogue.
“Whether it's with the medical people, whether it's coach to player, player to myself, whoever, player to player. We don't always have to see everything through the same prism, but we can respect each other's opinions, and that's what I'm probably most proud of, how our guys have handled it to this point. I think it's probably grown more legs on social media, or nationally than what it has here inside these walls.”