It's not football as we know it. But it is football and the Bengals and their sport-starved players and fans are ready to report on time when veterans check in July 28 to begin a training camp that won't feature pads for about three more weeks.
After reports Friday evening that the player reps of the NFL Players Association had approved a deal for a revised CBA with the owners, the Bengals continued to work the guidelines dictated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Their rookies had their second Covid-19 test on Friday and they'll get their physicals Sunday. When the vets come in next Tuesday, they'll begin their four days of testing followed by physicals. According to profootballtalk.com, players who test negative twice can get into Paul Brown Stadium. Daily testing takes place for two weeks and then every other day if the positive rate is below five percent.
"Back to work. That's good. I think that's what we've all been waiting for. I've talked to some guys and they're excited about getting back," said center Trey Hopkins. "It would have been irresponsible to put us on the field in pads right away. Guys have been all over the place, States have been shut down. It's been hard to work out, so I think it's important to get everybody in and see where they are."
According to reports, contact practices may not begin for 20 days, on or about Aug. 17. Camp would open with strength and conditioning periods for 10 days or so and that would morph into practices in helmets before the padded sessions, of which there is a maximum of 14, reports say. No fans can watch the camp practices and there are no preseason games with everything focused on a Sept. 13 opener at Paul Brown Stadium against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Middle linebacker Josh Bynes, one of the five defensive starters the Bengals picked up in free agency, was still working on the fly Friday afternoon as he pieced together news on Twitter.
"Everything is fluid. We'll see what happens next. We'll talk about that tonight when we're on a call," said Bynes from Atlanta as the players waited to be briefed by NFLPA officials. "It's a weird time for the world in general There's not as much communication and we're so schedule-oriented."
Both Hopkins, who just signed a three-year extension late last season, and Bynes, a 10-year veteran with a Super Bowl ring, are undrafted free agents who made good. They know there won't be many of those because of the lack of spring practices and preseason games and what looks to be a roster cut from 90 to 80, although reports have the practice squads expanded to 16 players.
"It's a very tough time for those guys. My heart goes out to them," Hopkins said. "I know what that time on the field means to a guy in that position. The chances it gives you to make an impression on the coaches. And a lot of those guys didn't have pro days."
Bynes is coming from a Ravens team that never lost once he came off the couch in early October before losing their divisional game against Titans, which was Bynes' seventh career post-season game. The Bengals are counting on his experience to help a defense that is trying to integrate half of its starters to a new system with so little time on the field.
"It's not without its challenges," Bynes said. "I feel bad for the young guys because I was one of them. But we need to get in and go as soon as we can. It's all about teams who finish well in a season. That's what it's all about. Everybody is going to have some (down moments), but it's the teams that rebound. It's all about getting in and going to the playoffs. You want to be ready for the season, but it's all about finishing, too."
Hopkins and Bynes are representative of the wide range of players the league must accommodate in the pandemic. Hopkins, who is single, lives most of the time in Cincinnati. Bynes, who has kids, lives in Atlanta.
"My family would love to come there, but I think they're staying here," Bynes said. "You never know who has it. I'll have to see what it looks like once I get up there."
There is Hopkins and his dog. That's it.
"I understand guys are worried about their wives and children, pregnant wives. I think we're looking at the impact on our families," Hopkins said. "They may take a harder hit and guys still have a lot of questions. But, for sure, it's an exciting time."
According to PFT, teams aren't going to be strangled by an economic crunch. There are guarantees the salary cap is at least $175 million next year, which would be a $23 million dip.