NFL News & Analysis

Vaccine status set to play critical role as NFL teams trim rosters to 53 players

Eagan, MN, United States; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Jake Browning (3) participates in drills at training camp at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL informed teams in a memo last month that a team can't cut a player due to their vaccine status.

It has become abundantly clear that teams won’t follow that rule, and * players’ vaccine statuses may play a notable role as rosters eventually trim from 90 to 53 players.

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Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer lost three unvaccinated quarterbacks — Kirk Cousins, Kellen Mond and Nate Stanley — for a Saturday night scrimmage after Mond tested positive for COVID-19.

Jake Browning, who is fully vaccinated, was the only available quarterback. And he took advantage of his opportunity.

Per ESPN Vikings reporter Courtney Cronin, Browning cemented himself as the favorite for QB2 with his performance on Saturday night.

“Jake's really smart,” Zimmer said. “He's vaccinated. That helps to be the backup. So as we move forward here, he's gonna get a ton of reps. He's out there, he's available, that's important. It's important to be available when you're playing football, a team sport.”

Zimmer then turned to his three sidelined quarterbacks:

“I am disappointed that this happened. I’m frustrated, not just with my football players who didn’t get vaccinated, but I’m frustrated with everybody who didn’t.”

Per The Athletic's Nicki Jhabvala, the Vikings have the lowest vaccination rate in the league at 70% in process and 64.5% fully vaccinated.

In Washington, Ron Rivera has also publicly expressed his disappointment in unvaccinated players.

“I’m truly frustrated. I’m beyond frustrated,” Rivera said. “Part of the reason I walk in with a mask on is I’m immune-deficient. I just hope that our guys can understand that.”

The Football Team is near the bottom of the league in player vaccination rates, according to the Washington Post. They currently have seven players on the Reserve/COVID-19 list after Daron Payne was added Sunday.

Unvaccinated free agents have little chance to make a roster this season. The supply outweighs the demand. Teams interested in signing street free agents have been asking NFL agents if their clients are vaccinated. Chad Speck, president of Allegiant Athletic Agency, shared how one such interaction went down in a tweet last week:

Based on Zimmer’s and Rivera’s quotes, it’s quite obvious that any close roster decision involving two players at the same position will go to the player who is vaccinated.

Certain unvaccinated players, such as Cousins, will be able to keep their roster spots due to skill, guaranteed pay or potential cap hit.

But unvaccinated players who lack top-tier skill and ability will have a hard time holding onto or getting a job. This is the reality in the NFL, and we’re going to see it play out throughout the month of August. 

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