3 NFL teams nearly forfeited games and paychecks, leading players to clamor for end to COVID-19 testing and protocols

As COVID-19 surged through the NFL this week and forced the rescheduling of three games, multiple sources involved in talks between the league office and NFL Players Association told Yahoo Sports that three teams were on the verge of having to forfeit Week 15: The Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Rams and Washington Football Team.

It was a staggering reality that began to sink in for the league and players union by Thursday, pushing the two sides into a rescheduling negotiation that the NFL was adamant about avoiding heading into this season. The about-face became increasingly necessary as all three teams struggled to patch together a gameday roster that could play safely, a point that became concerning enough for the Rams that players engaged in a midweek discussion about not playing. Ultimately, that concern led to the NFLPA pressing the NFL for a schedule change, arguing that the spate of uncontrolled infections occurred inside all three franchises in spite of the teams meeting vaccination standards and following proper protocols.

Hovering overhead it all was the reality that three forfeits would effectively wipe three games off the television schedule and lead to the loss of game checks for the six teams that would have faced off. That was part of the parameters laid down by the NFL this past summer, when the league notified franchises that failing to field a game would lead to the forfeiture of game checks for both teams. That means not only would players for the Browns, Rams and Washington franchise have lost their pay for this week, it also would have stripped a week of pay from the Las Vegas Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks.

As one source in the talks put it bluntly Friday: “Both the Browns and Rams nearly forfeited their games and Washington was also in danger of it. … If something hadn’t been done — if there were no games, the players on those six teams would not have been paid. It’s that simple.”

That didn’t stop a multitude of players from those teams complaining on social media about the games being rescheduled. But the continued danger of forfeits and lost money — combined with the testing fatigue of the past two seasons — has fueled a more drastic push among players: Ending COVID testing entirely and permanently removing all protocols from the NFL.

A swath of players have confronted the union calling for that dramatic change, which stands in direct opposition to the NFLPA’s push for a return to daily testing. Those complaints and calls for drastic change in testing and protocols ramped up significantly this week. The union fielded an onslaught of calls, texts and other messages from players who were angry that the NFL forced all 32 teams into enhanced protocols through the end of Week 15. The league took that step — which significantly limits contact inside facilities and locks down teams traveling this weekend — in hopes of slowing down the COVID infections wave that has been spreading across teams and staffs for more than a week.

There are no plans to shut down COVID testing or protocols, but that changes to the system are under review, sources from the league and union told Yahoo Sports on Friday.

The league and union already agreed to some new testing standards this week, which aim to get players back onto the field more quickly after they have been infected with COVID.