Why are Cleveland Browns players, others, opting out of 2020 season?

MEMPHIS, TN - SEPTEMBER 03: Jonathan Wilson #38 of the Memphis Tigers is blocked by Drew Forbes #76 of the Southeast Missouri Redhawks on September 3, 2016 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis defeated Southeast Missouri State 35-17. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)
MEMPHIS, TN - SEPTEMBER 03: Jonathan Wilson #38 of the Memphis Tigers is blocked by Drew Forbes #76 of the Southeast Missouri Redhawks on September 3, 2016 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis defeated Southeast Missouri State 35-17. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images) /

The COVID opt-out decision was not easy for Drew Forbes of the Cleveland Browns or other NFL players, but what goes into the decision-making process?

The Cleveland Browns learned they have lost development guard Drew Forbes, who opted out of the 2020 season, as well as undrafted free agent offensive lineman Drake Dorbeck. As a result, Forbes will be granted a leave of absence with a stipend of $350,000 due to an approved medical condition contributing to the situation, or $150,000. Undrafted rookies might hypothetically be eligible for the medical stipend, but as UDFA’s are not eligible for the $150,000 non-medical opt-out.

Your humble correspondent knows nothing about medical conditions that qualify players for the $350,000 stipend, but may we engage in some pure speculation? Without knowing the specifics of what qualifies as an approved risk factor for COVID-19, is a body mass index (BMI) of 35 (say 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds) sufficient to qualify a rookie for a $350,000 stipend? Normally, that is considered obese if you look at the height and weight charts on the internet.

Of course, an offensive lineman would punch you in the nose if you were to suggest he might be an ounce overweight. But for $350,000, a young lineman struggling to support a family might be tempted to allow himself to be called obese just this one time. To emphasize, this is speculation. This writer does not know a high BMI for an NFL player qualifies as a risk factor to trigger the $350,000 stipend, but it would be nice to get a statement from the NFL or NFLPA to clarify that point.

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So, if that or some other combination of risk factors lands an otherwise healthy football player on the list of at-risk normal humans, it might be smart for a UDFA to take the money and try again in 2021. Perhaps the players can get some game time in the Canadian Football League or something in the meantime to progress his skill levels.

Dawg Pound Daily is attempting to get clarification from the NFLPA whether BMI qualifies as a medical condition that would allow an undrafted free agent to collect the $350,000 stipend. At press time, an answer was not available, and phone calls have not been returned.

Browns fans, before you get too bummed out by the loss of two good players, it is not just the Cleveland Browns dealing with players opting out. In fact, the New England Patriots, who have already lost the biggest name in Tom Brady due to free agency, have lost several players to the opt-out procedure.

Offensive lineman Marcus Cannon is a cancer survivor, so perhaps his decision to opt out is not surprising, but they are also losing former Brown Danny “Superback” Vitale, who was supposed to replace retiring fullback James Develin. Also, running back Brandon Bolden, two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Dont’a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung, and offensive lineman Najee Toran have all said they will opt out.

None of us are equipped to judge the very personal reasons that went into these decisions, but so many from one team is surprising. For a variety of reasons, these players felt it would be better to play football in 2021 than in 2020. Yes, they will be a year older, but you know what they say: It’s not the age, it’s the mileage.

No doubt fans will be upset to see their favorite players sitting out. But if you look at it from the NFL’s perspective, it should be clear to all but the most rock-headed owners that there is very little choice. What if the NFL refused to let a player opt out, and then that player were to actually get sick and die from this horrific disease? What then? The lawsuits would be as horrific as the disease. The NFL attorneys could not allow that to happen. Thus, those owners who wanted to play hardball with the players over COVID probably caused the rest of the NFL and their attorneys to absolutely freak out.

Based on that foreseeable scenario, it seems to this fan the NFL attorneys likely recommended a very generous opt-out procedure and won the day. Now each player and their agents are going to have to think through what it actually means on a case-by-case basis.

They have to make their own assessment not only of the disease and their personal medical situation, but also based on the likelihood of playing out the season. Some of the pro sports look better than others right now. For example, it looks like the NBA bubble system has a very good chance of working.

On the other hand, Major League Baseball looks foolish right now with literally half of the Miami Marlins catching the virus almost immediately. The most amazing stat of the young season is apparently MLB does not think it is important to test daily, and they figure the disease will kind of leave them alone while they ignore social distancing protocols. Like, wow!

A sports agent looks at that sloppy MLB show and miserable results to date, and has to wonder whether the NFL is going to be more like MLB or more like the NBA. Realistically, however, the NFL is going to play a 20-game schedule, including playoffs, and they will have daily testing, which will allow them to quickly treat and isolate afflicted individuals.

MLB’s season could potentially be some 80-plus games including exhibitions, regular season and playoffs. That is a lot of games. Even so, in Korea, they are managing to play professional baseball, and they have 68 games under their belts as of the end of July, so it must be possible. Those two differences alone would seem to greatly shorten the odds in favor of the NFL. The chances of playing professional football seem to be very high to this observer, but each player, agent and medical advisor are going to have to make their own judgment.

It is definitely not fair or appropriate for any of us to question the individual decisions players are making, other than to understand it is totally up to the individual and they have to do what is best for themselves and for their families.

But it is appropriate to ask how the COVID arrangement has been structured with the NFLPA, and in particular whether the NFL has unintentionally incentivized certain players to opt out. That will be discussed in greater detail in the days and weeks ahead as we learn more about the details.

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Overall, however, what we care most about is whether there is going to be an NFL season. A number of signs are positive, though, we really won’t know for sure until the first kickoff.