NFL facing unending series of questions, uncertain answers

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Tampa Bay Times

FILE - This June 23, 2020, file photo shows Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Ryan Jensen, far left, along with safety Mike Edwards, second from left, quarterback Tom Brady, center in orange, cornerback Jamel Dean, second from right, and quarterback Blaine Gabbert during a private workout at Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, Fla. In a normal year, Brady's switch from the Patriots to the Buccaneers would have overridden every NFL story, from early winter through the spring and summer and into his debut against fellow 40-something QB Drew Brees and the Saints in September. Perhaps the biggest headlines Brady drew recently came when he defied players' union recommendations to cease informal practices with teammates as a coronavirus precaution. (Chris Urso/Tampa Bay Times via AP, File)

In seven weeks, the NFL expects to kick off its 101st season with the Super Bowl champion Chiefs hosting Houston.

Emphasis on expects.

Still set on conducting a somewhat normal training camp, though without any preseason games, and then opening the regular season on time, the NFL pushes onward.

Rookies are reporting to team facilities this week, nearly all of them for the first time. Veterans are set to come in next week, and after testing for COVID-19 and a lengthy acclimation period, practices should begin sometimes next month.

Of course, there are more questions than ever for America's most profitable sports league, most notably how to keep people safe in a contact sport during a pandemic.

“Everything that we’re doing is centered around the concept of risk mitigation," says Dr. Allen Sills, the league's chief medical officer. “We know that we can’t eliminate risk, but we’re trying to mitigate it as much as possible for everyone. We know that this is going to be a shared responsibility.”

Already this year the NFL has had to switch to remote, well, everything: free agency, the draft, offseason workouts, owners meetings. Now come the biggest and most critical tests as 80-man rosters attempt to stay healthy while preparing to play a game that requires close contact nearly all the time. Roster sizes were reduced from 90 under an agreement Tuesday between the league and the players’ association, according to people familiar with the change who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because it has not been announced.

“We could have a ton of social distance, more than we have with our football team,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid says. “It’s all set up with monitors and everything else. Then the testing, these guys are going to be tested often. It’ll be good that way. There’s a responsibility for coaches and players to make sure we handle ourselves right when we’re away from it. We are still keeping as much social distance as we can. It’s a contact sport, but when there’s no contact we’re going to keep our distance.”