INDIANAPOLIS – They’ve knocked on Frank Reich’s door – one after another after another – with heavy hearts and a life-altering decision.
Marvell Tell III.
At a time when teams across the NFL are cranking up for a season like none before it, that trio decided the COVID-19 pandemic that is ravaging the world involves too much unknown and too much risk for themselves and their families.
All three had private conversations with Reich and Chris Ballard. It’s not a stretch to assume the discussions were emotional and tears were shed.
We’re talking about young men – Moore and Milligan are 25, Tell is 24 – who are hitting the pause button on NFL careers that have yet to really take off. Moore and Milligan are projected backups and special teams contributors. Tell, a 2019 fifth-round draft pick, was expected to challenge for a starting spot in the secondary.
“We had three good football players who opted out, but understandably so,’’ Reich said. “You respect those decisions.’’
Reich declined to elaborate on the individual reasons – “Obviously those are private,’’ he said more than once – but understood the unique dynamics players across the league are facing.
“If they’re for personal reasons,’’ he said, “you can do the math and figure out . . . some risk has increased at a level that makes them feel uncomfortable. Whether that’s with them personally or with their close family member. We all recognize that’s part of the risk. It’s not just about you . . . if you have a wife, young children, whatever.’’
The deadline for a player to opt out is 4 p.m. Thursday, and decisions are irrevocable. League-wide, more than 50 players have opted out.
Reich isn’t certain if any other Colt is considering that option.
“Of course my mind says no; I’m not expecting any,’’ he said. “But these are personal decisions, so we’ll just see. I would obviously like to talk with everyone before they made that decision.
“But I understand the dynamics of that. This is a whole new realm, right?’’
Quarterback Philip Rivers has experienced a wide range of situations and faced several significant decisions during his 16-year career. But nothing at this level.
Was any consideration given to opting out?
“No, there really wasn’t. No,’’ Rivers said. “That’s the shortest answer I can give on my whole day. I don’t even know if I can ramble on that one. There wasn’t any consideration.’’
Rivers is 38 and the Colts are the last stop on what is a Hall of Fame-worthy career.
“Making that decision (to opt out) for me would have been making the decision to be done, period. Retiring,’’ he said. “Which is nowhere on my mind.’’
Rivers and wife Tiffany have relocated their nine children to the Noblesville/Westfield area, and the health of his family “is the utmost importance.’’
“I’m not going to pretend to be an expert,’’ he said. “There’s so many opinions and different reports on this whole thing from a standpoint of children being able to infect adults or adults being able to infect children. Some say no, some say yes and this and that.
“Obviously there’s always your outliers and your tragedies that happen with young children and all people as this virus has been throughout the country. You just try to be smart . . . making sure we’re doing the best we can.’’
Rivers and his wife haven’t determined if they’re going to home-school their children.
“Still figuring it out,’’ he said.
He could have been speaking for the rest of the league.
Rivers believes the NFL and players union did as good a job as possible at giving players alternatives during the COVID-19-impacted season with the opt-out. As part of the agreement, a player who opts out with high-risk concerns is eligible for a $350,000 stipend. A player who voluntarily opts out receives a $150,000 salary advancement.
In the end, to each his own.
“Did I ever consider it? No,’’ he said. “Do I think someone that does consider it or does opt, do I think they’re crazy? No. I think it’s really up to each person and their family to do what’s best for them.’’
Rivers does wonder, though, if players might have second thoughts.
“The finality of it is the big thing,’’ he said. “You never know when you make a decision like that. In a couple of weeks sometimes you go, ‘Oh man, I wish I wasn’t.’
“It will be interesting if you hear from some guys, how they feel about it in a few weeks and some guys that maybe were thinking about it and didn’t if they wish they did two weeks down the road.’’
New Orleans head coach Sean Payton tested positive for COVID-19 during the offseason and Philadelphia’s Doug Pederson recently tested positive.
Reich and Ballard have discussed that situation hitting the Colts. There are contingency plans should any coach test positive and be lost for a period of time.
“We’ve mapped that out,’’ Reich said. “I’ve talked it through with Chris, so all those scenarios are covered.’’
Reich initially wasn’t certain whether to share those plans with his staff.
“I didn’t want it to become a distraction,’’ he said. “I don’t want the person who is next man up to be thinking about that and be distracted by that.
“After ruminating with that and wrestling that through – and I talked it through with Chris – I just decided I was going to tell the coordinators what the plan was, but that was it.
“It’s all written down. It’s all mapped out. We all know.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.