Urban Meyer admitted it. The Patriots denied it, but nobody really believes them. And the NFL’s protocols essentially encourage teams to do it, despite not being allowed per negotiations with the union.
Teams factor in a player’s vaccination status for COVID-19 when making roster decisions.
While those teams are technically forbidden from doing so, your team has no such obligation. And since it can have an effect on your success, ignoring it could be detrimental to your team.
To be clear, this article is not an invitation to argue about vaccines. If you want to have that discussion, you can go literally anywhere on the Internet and have it. I’m going to pass on that debate. You’ve already made up your mind one way or the other, and that’s fine. But as a fantasy manager, what your players have decided can make a big difference as to their availability. And that availability affects you and your team.
There’s no question that the league wants its players to be vaccinated, and there are different rules in place, depending on their status. The unvaccinated get tested daily; the vaccinated get tested weekly. Unvaccinated have to wear masks pretty much all the time, while the vaccinated have to wear them some of the time.
But the one difference that affects us involves close contact designations. Vaccinated players are not considered high-risk close contacts. They aren’t going to be at risk of actually missing a game unless they test positive.
Unvaccinated players are a different story. Once they're designated a high-risk close contact, they're out for five days. That designation means they absolutely could miss games, whether they actually test positive or not. Just being considered a close contact could cost them (and you) a start.
While most drafts and auctions have already taken place, there will be a few last-minute leagues holding them in the next day or two. And waiver wire players will be held to the same protocols all season. Do you have a fixed waiver budget? Does your league limit how many pickups you can have each week, or limit the number of players you can have at each position? Will you be at the back of the pecking order if you make a pickup that ends up missing a game? Any of those scenarios can affect your team.
When you’re selecting players, it shouldn’t be the first factor you consider. These guys are tested daily, and they understand the importance of being available for their team. Still, you might use it as a tie-breaker (like the real teams probably did), and you should definitely have a good plan in place if you know a starter isn’t vaccinated. And when choosing a backup that you might actually need to use (like if your starter is on a bye or hurt), their status could put you in a bind if they end up missing a game.
Now, their status isn’t usually public record, of course. Even NFL players are entitled to a degree of privacy. But from some of their comments, and how they’ve been treated when they’ve been in contact with a COVID-positive player, you might be able to discern some of that information. Teams that have declared themselves 100 percent vaccinated (Falcons, Buccaneers) don’t really present problems for fantasy managers. But for the rest of the league, not knowing could cost you.
Keep in mind that fully-vaccinated players can also test positive, so you’re never 100 percent protected from losing a starter at a bad time. You might even lose that week’s game if things get bad enough for a particular team. But you can’t really prepare for every contingency. You can only control what you can control, and we’re limited to controlling who we put on our teams, and which ones we decide to start.
I also think you should be careful not to give too much weight to vaccination status. After all, why choose a lesser talent on the off chance a better player misses a game? You could hurt your team by over-preparing for something that might never happen. Still, you should (like NFL teams do) factor it into your thought process. But unlike those teams, at least you don’t have to lie about it. Good luck in week 1.
Does a player’s vaccination status impact their fantasy value to you? Do players from a team with 100 percent vaccinations look more appealing? Have you made any decisions for your team where vaccination status played a role? Share your thoughts below, but please keep it related to fantasy football.