NFL News & Analysis

NFL informs teams that COVID-19 cancellations due to unvaccinated players could lead to forfeits, lost pay

Cleveland, Ohio, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announces the final pick of the 2021 NFL Draft for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at First Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

​​The NFL sent out a memo to all 32 teams Thursday with a clear message to players: Get vaccinated, or else.

If a game cannot be played in 2021 due to a Covid outbreak among unvaccinated players and cannot be rescheduled, the team responsible for the cancellation will be forced to forfeit, according to the memo, which was tweeted by NFL Media’s Tom Pelissero.

The league does not plan to add a 19th week to the 2021 schedule. The NFL will be more lenient if a Covid breakout occurs among vaccinated players. Teams will incur other fines for rescheduled games and cancellations.

Subscribe to

The kicker for NFL players: “If a game is cancelled and cannot be rescheduled within the current 18-week schedule due to a Covid outbreak, neither team’s players will receive their weekly … salary.”

NFL players are risking lost games and funds if they or their teammates don’t get vaccinated.

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley has been most outspoken against vaccinations, but other NFL players were less than receptive to Thursday’s memo.

Beasley’s teammate, wide receiver Stefon Diggs, however, tweeted: “accountability … availability.”


“I think this is par for the course over the last year. We’ve been getting bullied and this is just the latest. If we could have foreseen Covid, probably wouldn’t have been a yes on CBA,” said one vaccinated NFL player. “Definitely frustrating, but we really don’t have any leverage to stand on.”

New York Giants rookie wide receiver Kadarius Toney and Jacksonville Jaguars backup quarterback Jake Luton on Thursday were the first players placed on the NFL’s reserve/COVID-19 list this summer, indicating a positive test or close contact.

As of last week, the Washington Football Team, Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Chargers and Arizona Cardinals were under 50 percent vaccinated, the Associated Press reported. All 32 teams have now crossed that 50 percent threshold, however, according to NFL Media.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Carolina Panthers have one of the NFL’s highest vaccination rates, according to a league source. The New England Patriots have a high vaccination rate, as well, though our source couldn’t provide an exact percentage. The Las Vegas Raiders are close to 90 percent vaccinated, according to another league source.

Fourteen teams have over 85 percent of players vaccinated, according to NFL Media’s Judy Battista. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos are among them, per the AP. Out of all NFL players, over 78 percent have received at least one dose, according to Battista.

NFL team Vaccination rate
Las Vegas Raiders Close to 90 percent
Carolina Panthers Over 85 percent
Pittsburgh Steelers Over 85 percent
Miami Dolphins Over 85 percent
Denver Broncos Over 85 percent
New England Patriots High
Los Angeles Chargers Over 50 percent
Arizona Cardinals Over 50 percent
Washington Football Team Over 50 percent
Indianapolis Colts Over 50 percent

“Obviously we’re pleased with those numbers but we aren’t satisfied,” NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills told Battista. “We want to see them continue to go up. We’re continuing our educational efforts. We’re continuing our outreach efforts. I think what that indicates is players and staff and everyone have been evaluating the situation and making decisions based on the data. We’ll continue to provide those opportunities to seek information and continue to encourage individuals to get vaccinated. 

“Certainly, those rates are well above what we’re seeing in the rest of society, and certainly above the same age group as most of our players are. A great head start; more work to be done.”

Overall team vaccination rates have not been made public by the NFL. 

Vaccinated NFL players will be tested for Covid once a week. Unvaccinated players will be tested daily.

Based on the NFL’s Covid-related protocol, teams with higher vaccination rates will certainly have an advantage this season if any outbreaks occur. 

Editor's note: PFF is tracking NFL win totals and providing up-to-date analysis and bets to make using our market-leading 2021 NFL season simulation engine.

While a team cannot cut a player based on his vaccination status, it’s foolish to believe that it wouldn’t become a contributing factor if two players — one vaccinated and one not — are on the bubble.

Teams also intend to make it clear to players who are not vaccinated that they must closely adhere to the NFL’s guidelines, according to a source.

You've got the first pick with your finances. Western Southern Financial Group.

NFL Featured Tools

  • Live picks, grades and reaction to the 2022 NFL Draft.

  • PFF's Big Board for the 2023 NFL Draft offers three-year player grades, combine measurables, position rankings, and in-depth player analysis for all of the top draft prospects.

    Available with

  • 250+ three-page scouting profiles - advanced stats, 3-year grades, player comps, combine data and Senior Bowl grades - for the 2022 draft class.

    Available with

  • PFF's exclusive metrics provide matchup previews, position rankings, grades, and snap counts.

    Available with

  • Our exclusive database, featuring the most in-depth collection of NFL player performance data.

    Available with

Pro Subscriptions

Unlock NFL Player Grades, Fantasy & NFL Draft

$9.99 / mo
$39.99 / yr

Unlock Premium Stats, PFF Greenline & DFS

$34.99 / mo
$199.99 / yr