The New England Patriots’ No. 1 goal this summer, Bill Belichick said Friday, is to enter the 2020 NFL season as healthy as possible.
So far, so good.
The Patriots are one of seven NFL teams that have not placed a single player on the reserve/COVID-19 list as the first week of testing comes to a close. Players on the list either tested positive for the coronavirus or had been quarantined after coming in close contact with an infected individual.
Patriots players who returned three negative tests this week will be granted access to Gillette Stadium on Saturday, at which point the next stage of training camp (physicals and equipment fitting) will begin.
During a video call with reporters, Patriots coach Bill Belichick laid out the measures the team is taking to protect its players and prevent a COVID-19 outbreak. He praised team owner Robert Kraft for implementing several safety-focused stadium upgrades and said the Patriots are strictly adhering to — and even exceeding — the NFL’s COVID prevention protocols.
“The No. 1 thing is safety for everybody involved — players, staff, the organization, all our support people and so forth,” Belichick said. “The biggest thing is to try to start the season healthy, and that means healthy, in a safe environment, with all the required testing and so forth that we’ve been through. And I think the players have done a great job of responding to that so far, both in the recent week and the previous weeks and months before that.
“That overall has been really a very good thing for us throughout the entire spring, and organizationally, Robert and the Kraft family has responded with facility upgrades that are really at the highest level to put ourselves in the safest environment we can create on all different sorts of levels.
“We’ll use as much distancing as we can and other safety protocols that are in place, some of which, I think, are beyond (the NFL’s) requirements — in some cases well beyond the requirements — because we feel like that’s the most important thing and the right thing to do. So that’s really No. 1 on the priority (list).”
Even the strictest regulations can’t eliminate the possibility of one or more Patriots players contracting the virus, however, as the NFL is not playing its season inside a bubble the way the NBA and NHL are. Players will be trusted to take proper precautions away from the facility and can be punished if they test positive after participating in high-risk behavior, including visiting indoor bars and attending large gatherings.
Six Patriots players — linebacker Dont’a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung, offensive tackle Marcus Cannon, running back Brandon Bolden, fullback Danny Vitale and guard Najee Toran — have opted out of this season due to COVID-19 concerns.
What happens if a Patriots player does test positive? That will depend on a multitude of factors.
“There are protocols on that,” Belichick explained. “When you say ‘test positive,’ there are a lot of different levels of that and a lot of different circumstances and so forth in how long that lasts and what the symptoms are and so forth and so on. In any case, we’ll follow the protocols, and however the players can be involved, certainly we’ll attend to them and help them work through whatever situation they’re in.
“We’ll treat it just like any other injury, if you will. If a player gets sick during the season, it’s a similar type of thing — what we do with them, how we try to get them back to full health and maintain whatever level of fitness and staying on top of the game mentally that we can. We’ll take it on a case-by-case basis.
Belichick said the Patriots “have a general plan for how (they) want to handle” any COVID cases that may arise this season.
“But each situation’s different,” he added. “Each player’s different, and sometimes the positions and other circumstances are different — where they’re living and so forth. We’ve talked about a number of scenarios, and I think that whatever happens will fall into one of the ones that we’ve talked about. But we’re not there yet, fortunately.”
The Patriots are scheduled to hold their first training camp practice Aug. 12, with the first full-contact session set to take place Aug. 17. There will be no preseason games this year.