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July 30, 2020

John McMullen: Opting out of NFL season may have long-term implications for players like Marquise Goodwin

The opt-out path was designed to help players, but there's a darker side the league is choosing to overlook

Opinion Eagles

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Marquise-Goodwin-Eagles-49ers_042620 Cary Edmondson/USA Today Sports

Eagles wideout Marquise Goodwin.

At least one member of the track team that Howie Roseman assembled in the offseason isn't going to be part of any presumptive 2020 Eagles' campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Veteran receiver and former Olympic hurdler Marquise Goodwin has opted out of the upcoming season and the repercussion of that decision is that he may have also opted-out of Philadelphia as a whole.

In the real world, that doesn't matter. It certainly shouldn't matter — and obviously doesn't for Goodwin himself — but failing to point out a door not only could close but is likely to be shut seems specious.

Goodwin is the only Eagles player to make the opt-out decision so far although others will have another week or so to ponder things. 

The one thing we do know is that the news cycle moves quickly when it comes to the coronavirus. If another Miami Marlins situation develops, coupled with the national testing trends continuing to spike, those who decided to report to training camp could pull a 180.

For the Eagles, projected veteran starters Lane Johnson and Nate Gerry, along with swing-tackle hopeful Jordan Mailata were all placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday, created for players who have tested positive for the virus or are in quarantine after close contact with someone who tested positive.

Johnson confirmed he did indeed test positive for the virus.

A league source told PhillyVoice that the flurry of opt-outs in the past few days had to do with the reporting date, in that players who were wavering weren't likely to show up and potentially expose themselves to the virus only to opt-out a few days later.

So once the initial surge is complete, the likelihood of others will bog down barring the aforementioned outside influence.

For Goodwin, a brand-new father, the decision was a very personal one that tracked back to the difficulty he and his wife had in starting a family. Before his five-month-old daughter, Marae, was born, Goodwin and his wife had suffered through two miscarriages and he once played a game just hours after his son, Marquise Jr., was delivered stillborn.

"FAMILY OVER EVERYTHING!" Goodwin wrote on Twitter explaining his decision. "I stand firm on what I say. I MEAN WHAT I SAY! I DO WHAT I SAY! #FOE not just some word play for me, but real action. I finally had to prove that to myself."

The overall list of opt-outs around the league was larger than most expected, with the New England Patriots being hit particularly hard. Safety Patrick Chung, the ex-Eagle, along with linebacker Dont'a Hightower, offensive linemen Marcus Cannon and Najee Toran, and running backs Brandon Bolden and Danny Vitale all decided it wasn't worth it.

League-wide the biggest trend was larger players more susceptible to the virus opting out. Defensive linemen Eddie Goldman (Bears), Star Lotulelei (Bills), Kyle Peko (Broncos), Eddie Vanderdoes (Texans), Caleb Brantley (Washington) and Michael Pierce (Vikings) were joined by offensive tackle Andre Smith (Ravens), another former Philadelphia player in guard Chance Warmack (Seahawks), OT Nate Solder (Giants) and OG Laurent Duvernay Tardif (Chiefs), the very first player to walk away from the season.

The mitigating circumstances in Duvernay-Tardif’s case are obvious, even if the McGill University product didn’t spell them out on social media for all to see.

Duvernay-Tardif, 29, is the only medical school graduate who is active in the league and is on his way to becoming a licensed physician. To further that goal the veteran offensive time has been spending his COVID downtime in his native Canada as an orderly in a long-term care facility in the Montreal area.

"Being at the frontline during this offseason has given me a different perspective on this pandemic and the stress it puts on individuals and our healthcare system," Duvernay-Tardif wrote. "I cannot allow myself to potentially transmit the virus in our communities simply to play the sport that I love. If I am to take risks, I will do it caring for patients."

The default for most with no mitigating issues is what it always is: money. Remember, in the best of times professional football is a cost-benefit analysis for those who play it. Zach Ertz, who battled through a broken rib and lacerated kidney in the playoffs last season, has defined the injury rate for those who engage in the game as undefeated.

"The injury rate in this game is 100 percent," Ertz said. "If you play long enough, you are going to get hurt."

The point there is that NFL players are wired a certain way and the vast majority choose the reward over the risk of concussions and anything else you can think of, including COVID-19.

“Me personally, I didn’t have any decisions to opt-out,” first-round pick Jalen Reagor said via Zoom earlier this week. “... Making sure I stay safe and making sure the people I do put myself around, they’re not harming me or being a harm to me. It’s pretty easy. I’m kind of a home guy anyway. So being in the hotel, it’s fine with me. I don’t have a problem."

While most of the news about the NFL’s finances has been focused on the expected revenue shortfall with no fans or very few fans in the stands, too many have failed to understand the other side of that coin, the $8-plus billion in revenue that remains from television right fees.

Few on either side of the fence were prepared to walk away from that kind of money and that’s why the deadline of training camps set to begin spurred action when it came to the CBA amendments.

Few thought the spigot of opt-outs would be turned off completely, however.

The stipend for a “voluntary” pull out like Goodwin and Solder, who has a child battling cancer, will be $150,000, and those who opt-out for defined medical reasons like Pierce, who has asthma, will get $350K.

That’s a lot of money to the average worker, but it’s far less than even the minimum salary for a rookie in the NFL, never mind the $1.05 million an entrenched veteran gets on the lowest level of deals or the exorbitant money someone like Pierce got as the Vikings' marquee free agent.

Calling the opt-outs a stipend, as many have, is a misnomer from the league's perspective, though. To use Goodwin as an example, he will have his one-year, $1.35M contract rolled into 2021 and the $150K will be deducted from his deal for that season. In other words, it's more of a cash advance than a stipend. 

From a football-only perspective, the question of whether Goodwin will even be in the Eagles' plans 12 months from now is a legitimate one.

Even with the best intentions to protect players, Goodwin might be the perfect example of the type of who can't be guaranteed the same opportunity pre-COVID and post-COVID.

Presently, Goodwin had a very good opportunity to contribute after the Eagles acquired the veteran receiver during the draft to add some much-needed speed to the lineup, swapping sixth-round picks with San Francisco and working out a restructured contract.

Goodwin might be the least talked about when it comes to the new additions outside the numbers, a group which includes Reagor as well as later-round selections John Hightower and Quez Watkins. He might have been the most likely to contribute right away for two reasons: his prior history with new senior offensive assistant Rich Scangarello and his veteran status in the first virtual offseason.

Howie Roseman confirmed that the Eagles pursued Goodwin on the recommendation of Scangarello, the closest thing Philadelphia has to a traditional offensive coordinator after rebooting the coaching staff after last season. Before Scangarello was the OC in Denver for one year he was Kyle Shanahan’s quarterback coach with the 49ers, where he got to know Goodwin.

"Obviously Rich had the opportunity to be with him, and so he recommended him to (VP of player personnel) Andy (Weidl), coach, and I,” Roseman said.

Goodwin’s absence will ramp-up the learning curve for Reagor, increase the chances for Hightower and Watkins to make the final 53-man roster, and also bolster the opportunities for holdovers like Deontay Burnett and Rob Davis.

The opt-out path for any player was designed with altruism at the behest of the NFLPA but the unintended consequence for bubble players like Goodwin is out of sight, out of mind.

It's almost inconceivable that all the younger, more cost-effective options the Eagles have on hand all fall flat. Roseman and Weidl carpet-bombed the position for a reason.

And that means the real-world effect of Goodwin's decision from an employment standpoint is that he not only opted out of a season, he opted out of an opportunity.



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John McMullen is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media and also contributes Eagles and NFL coverage for PhillyVoice and SI.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com

Follow John on Twitter: @JFMcMullen

You can listen to John during the week on @SIRIUSXM’s Tony Bruno Show with Harry Mayes, every Tuesday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on @SportsMapRadio 

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