The NFL is set to take a harder line on teams' coronavirus-related roster issues in 2021 than it did last season.
According to an NFL Network report, the league sent a memo to teams Thursday laying out a series of potential consequences should teams not be able to play a scheduled game - including possible forfeits.
While the NFL, like other sports entities, juggled its schedule last season to ensure all games could be played, Thursday's memo shifts the impetus to the teams to ensure they have enough players to proceed with each of their 17 games in the newly expanded regular season schedule, saying "games will not be postponed or rescheduled simply to avoid roster issues caused by injury or illness affecting multiple players, even within a position group".
"Every club is obligated under the Constitution and Bylaws to have its team ready to play at the scheduled time and place," the league noted. "A failure to do so is deemed conduct detrimental. There is no right to postpone a game. Postponements will only occur if required by government authorities, medical experts, or at the Commissioner's discretion."
These new "operating principles" threaten harsh penalties for a COVID-19 outbreak involving non-vaccinated individuals, saying the financial "burden of the cancellation or delay" will fall on that team while the league works to "minimise" the burden on the other team.
However, "if a club cannot play due to a COVID spike in vaccinated individuals, we will attempt to minimise the competitive and economic burden on both participating teams".
The financial impact of a forfeited game would not be felt solely by team owners either.
The memo says any game that is cancelled and cannot be rescheduled within the 18 weeks allotted for the regular season will lead to weekly salary payments being withheld from players on both teams.
After news of the memo broke Thursday, the NFL Players' Association sent an email to its members saying the "same basic rules applied last year," but the stiff penalties never came to the forefront because all of the games were played.
"The only difference this year is the NFL's decision to impose additional penalties on clubs which are responsbile for the outbreak and the availability of proven vaccines," the email said in part.
"The protocols we jointly agreed to helped get us through a full season last year without missing game checks and are effective when followed," the NFLPA added.
Asked about the memo during a scheduled news conference at Dallas Cowboys training camp, running back Ezekiel Elliott called it a "touchy subject."
"I got the vaccine just because I wanted to put myself in the best situation to be out there for my team, week-in and week-out," Elliott told reporters.
"Not everyone feels that strongly or maybe other people still have their view of vaccines. You can't force someone to do something they don't want to do with their body."