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Roger Goodell Unsure If Normalcy Will Return For 2021 Season

Unknowns stemming from COVID-19 leave plenty of guesswork over next several months

The number of fans in the stands was severely limited by COVID-19 in 2020.
The number of fans in the stands was severely limited by COVID-19 in 2020.

The NFL looked markedly different in 2020, with no offseason work, fanless stadiums and omnipresent COVID-19 protocols.

While vaccines are being administered throughout the country, the pandemic continues, allowing for plenty of unknowns as the 2021 season looms down the road.

At his annual state of the league press conference preceding Sunday's Super Bowl, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was asked about his expectations for a possible return to normalcy next season.

"I wish I knew the answer to that," Goodell said. "…I don't know when normal is going to occur again, and I don't know if normal ever will again. I don't know if anybody here can (answer) that. I know this: we have learned to operate in a very difficult environment. We have found solutions. And we'll do it again."

The NFL will complete a full season when the game between the Chiefs and Buccaneers concludes on Sunday night. While no games were canceled this year, there were plenty of obstacles for every team and several close calls.

The league now has a blueprint and some experience in this COVID-19 reality, and will be prepared with contingency plans if the pandemic does not abate by the summer.

The likelihood of another virtual offseason seems high. The pandemic made for a unique free agency, draft and offseason setup in 2020, which could be duplicated.

"The combine is already going to go through significant changes, which is just in a few weeks," Goodell said. "We anticipate that a lot of the things we did last year, with respect to training camps, with respect to the offseason -- virtual is going to part of our life for the long-term. I think we learned, the coaches learned, the players learned, that it was actually a very positive way to install offenses and to work in the offseason. So I think we'll see more of that, for sure."

The presence of the COVID-19 vaccine brings hope for a more normal season, although Goodell reiterated on Thursday that the NFL would not leapfrog healthcare workers, teachers, the vulnerable population and others with higher priority in order to receive their doses quicker.

"It's too early to say whether vaccines will be part of the solution; we expect that they will," Goodell said. "We hope much of our society will be vaccinated by the summer, because it's in the best interest of our country and the health of our people."

Goodell did not say whether vaccinated fans would be allowed at games next season or if there would be full stadiums, but he does expect attendance to be higher than 2020.

"We will work with local health officials and medical experts, that if we do have opportunities to bring fans back into the stands next year, how do we do that safely?" Goodell said. "I've mentioned that 1.2 million fans got to attend an NFL game this year safely. … We're proud of that, and we're going to build on that."

Goodell said the NFL is planning for international games to resume in 2021. The Cardinals were slated to play in Mexico last season but that was canceled in early May.

As with everything else, the resumption of an international slate comes with a caveat.

"We obviously are going to stay in close contact with our partners in the U.K. and in Mexico, and make sure we are doing that safely," Goodell said. "If at any point in time we don't think we can execute on it safely, we will make that determination."

There was no Pro Bowl this season due to COVID-19, but here is a look at QB Kyler Murray receiving his threads.

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