- Associated Press - Monday, February 21, 2022

The NFL rescinded its plan to keep draft prospects in a bubblelike environment for next week’s scouting combine after agents for those athletes threatened to have their clients boycott the event.

In a memo sent Monday, the league acknowledged the prospects can now leave the designated areas at their own risk. The change comes after talks between league officials and player representatives over the proposed bubble that drew harsh criticism from agents. 

On Sunday, more than 150 draft prospects, through their agents, threatened to boycott next this year’s combine in wake of the league’s plan to implement bubblelike protocols that limit the contact athletes can have during the event.

The boycott called for the players to skip key events of the combine, such as workout drills and interviews with teams. The protest reportedly was organized by representatives of 13 different agencies, which represent more than 150 of the 324 prospects invited to the combine.

Over the weekend, the NFL sent a memo to prospects outlining a list of coronavirus-related protocols that the athletes must follow when in Indianapolis for the combine. The protocols prevented the prospects from having no more than one “medical support person” onsite to assist them during events — an issue of contention for the agents, who tend to surround prospects with trainers, nutritionists and others to help them prepare. The league said any player who violated the policy would be sent home. 

The scouting combine, which begins March 1, is an annual spectacle for the NFL in which prospects come to Indianapolis for the near-week-long event to conduct interviews with teams, get medically examined and perform in drills like the 40-yard dash. The event was not held in 2021, however, due to the pandemic.

Before Monday’s agreement was reached, multiple agents expressed their concerns about the NFL’s proposal.

As an agent, I struggle with the combine,” tweeted Mike McCartney, a high-profile agent who represents possible top pick Aidan Hutchinson. “Players get optimal nutrition & rest for games. The combine? Almost the opposite. Improper rest & diet, then tested in a cold, sterile environment. It’s part of why guys test better at Pro Days. And somehow, the NFL has now made it worse.”

Agent Steve Caric tweeted the NFL’s plan was akin to having a team “play a game without their coaching staff.” He wrote that if the league wants the prospects to do well at the combine, then they had to get access to their training staffs.

“Be ready for a lot of top prospects to wait until pro day to test,” Caric wrote. 

The NFL Players Association backed the effort of a potential boycott in a statement. The players’ union does not yet represent the prospects, though, because they have not been drafted and are not signed to an NFL contract.

On Monday, the NFL informed prospects that masks were still required on planes and around medical personnel. The league said that any player who wants to remain in “secure areas” may choose to do so.

“If you prefer to remain in the secure areas and have your approved supported medical personnel (physical therapist, massage therapist, or approved athletic trainer) enter the secure area to provide medical treatments, please follow the previously communicated procedure and complete the form in Teamworks (if you have not already),” the league said in a memo.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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