Training camps across the NFL have begun in earnest with players reporting to their respective teams over the past several days. In this unprecedented pandemic-scarred year, the Patriots find themselves in a paradoxical position.
As of this weekend, New England is one of just seven NFL clubs that has yet to place a player on the newly-instituted COVID-IR list, reserved for players who've tested positive for the potentially deadly virus. Yet, the Patriots lead the league by far in the growing number of players league-wide who've elected to opt out of playing this season under the coronavirus' ubiquitous threat. Media reports indicate that WR Marqise Lee and TE Matt LaCosse recently became the seventh and eighth Patriots to decide to sit out 2020.
Players who voluntarily choose not to play this season receive a $150,000 salary advance for the year, while those considered "high-risk" (e.g., with underlying health conditions) are given a $350,000 payment if they opt out.
One Patriot who might have fallen in that latter category is center David Andrews, who was forced to watch the 2019 season from the sidelines after being diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs last summer, shortly after training camp opened. Earlier this offseason, the returning co-captain discussed the long road back to regaining his full strength.
However, Andrews ultimately decided that he's healthy enough to play amid the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.
"It's something, obviously, we all have to think about, make our own choices. My choice has been made," he told reporters during a video conference Sunday. "Talking with my doctors and my wife… we feel comfortable. I'm excited to get the chance to go out and compete again."
Andrews' offensive line mate, right tackle Marcus Cannon, is one of the eight Patriots who've opted out of playing in 2020. While Cannon is considered high-risk as a cancer survivor early in his NFL career, many other New England players are fathers of newborn children or expectant fathers, which some have cited as the reason behind their decisions not to play this season.
Andrews says he respects each of their decisions and is now focused on maintaining his own health as he and most of his other teammates return to Gillette Stadium to prepare for a training camp under entirely new guidelines and restrictions.
"A lot of things are different," he continued. "We're trying to do the best we can to create distance. Just have to be as safe as you can, as clean as you can... There's obviously risks we're all taking here, [but] there's risks of going to the grocery store or filling up your car with gas. We've been fortunate so far [with no positive tests]. Hopefully we can continue on this trend."
The 28-year-old Andrews first made the Patriots roster in 2015 as an undrafted rookie. This summer, though, young players in the position he once found himself in won't have the benefit of regular practice formats, joint training camp sessions, and preseason games to impress the coaching staff.
This year's COVID-inspired alterations include several days of conditioning and weight training, following by just 14 padded practice sessions beginning in mid-August, no joint sessions with another club, and zero preseason games. It's therefore incumbent on every player, veteran and newcomer alike, Andrews emphasized several times, to make the most of these limited opportunities.
"I don't know if it's better or worse. We'll see… We're all going to be in this thing together," Andrews remarked. "The thing we can do is use all 14 days to our best ability. Take advantage of each day. That's all we've got."
It may be unusual and curtailed, but after all he's been through over the past year, Andrews will take some football over none at all.
"I love this game," he exclaimed, "and I'm fortunate to get to keep doing it right now."