As the Broncos head into the 2021 offseason, the team faces uncertainty about which players will fill several key positions.
There's also uncertainty, according to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, about how the upcoming offseason will look in wake of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
Goodell, speaking Thursday from Tampa, Florida during his annual Super Bowl press conference, said it was too soon to provide definite answers about a number of impending issues, including how the NFL will utilize the vaccine, if fans must be vaccinated to attend games and if the offseason will remain virtual.
"We're proponents of the vaccine in the sense that we all have a valuable role as a league to endorse that," Goodell said. "I think we're doing that here with 7,500 vaccinated health-care workers in the sense of saying, 'That's important for the health of our communities.' Medical experts are telling us that. We want to support that. We have supported that. We said many times, we're not going to jump in line. We think the priorities that are established by the health experts to get the front-line workers and others — teachers — are things that are necessary. We've never relied on that. We stayed with our protocols and we didn't rely on vaccines. It's too early to say whether vaccines will be part of the [NFL's] solution. We expect that they will. We hope that 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. We'll adapt and if our protocols have to adapt to that, we will."
Goodell, though, said it's "far too early" to guess if stadiums will again be full, if players who are unvaccinated will be able to play and if the league could allow crowds of full vaccinated individuals.
"We don't have answers for that at this stage," Goodell said. "They're just questions and I don't have answers for those today. There are things that we'll work on. We'll work with the Players Association ... on all of those, but we'll also work with local health officials and medical experts to make sure that if we do have opportunities to bring fans back into stands next year, how do we do that safely? We were able to do that — I mentioned 1.2 million fans were able to attend an NFL game this year safely. Safely. Without any outbreaks ... that attending those games caused in the community. We're proud of that and we're going to build on that."
Goodall said the NFL will evaluate all of its data from the previous season and that he expects the challenges for the upcoming season will lessen because the league has already — almost — completed one season without any cancellations.
He does believe, as the league moves forward, that some of the virtual elements from the 2020 offseason could again be implemented.
"Virtual's going to be part of our life," Goodell said. "I think we learned and the coaches learned and the players learned that it was actually a very positive way to install offenses and to work in the offseason. I think we'll see more of that for sure. But I also believe our coaches feel strongly — and we'll talk about this with the union — that there's value in the training camp, there's value in practices, there's value in having preseason games where you can develop young players to give them the opportunity to get better as football players. The veterans may not need that as much. Those are they types of things we'll balance as we come into the offseason, and I'm sure we'll come up with solutions."
And while there's no definitive plan yet for many of the questions facing the league in the months ahead, Goodell said the league would proceed with the intention of resuming its international series in 2021. The Broncos were rumored to be set to play the Falcons in London in 2020, but the pandemic forced the game back to Atlanta.
"We are planning for our international games," Goodell said. "That's the approach we're going to take. We obviously are going to stay in close contact with our partners in the UK and in Mexico and make sure that we're doing that safely. If at any point in time we don't think we can execute on it safely, we'll make that determination.
"Last year I think we ended up deciding not to play the international games sometime right before the schedule was announced. I think [the decision was made] in April. I think that was done after a lot of consultation not only with our medical officials but also looking at the risks with the players association of traveling the entire party over in a stadium that we weren't able to implement our protocols in. Not that they don't have protocols, but we had very tight protocols in our stadiums and felt it was safer to keep them in our 30 stadiums here in the country, where we knew those protocols were being implemented along and consistent with our policies. We hope to get back there and we're planning for it, and we'll make that decision whenever we have enough information to do so."
With all of the decisions that await the league, Goodell believes the NFL will respond with a solid plan — no matter what awaits the 32 teams.
"I don't know when normal is going to occur again," Goodell said. "… I know this: We have learned to operate in a very difficult environment. We have found solutions. And we'll do it again."