FILE - Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tom Brady, NFL Begins Football

In this Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021, file photo, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) hands off the ball during the first half of a preseason NFL football game against the Houston Texans in Houston. 

(The Center Square) – The National Football League kicks off its 2021 season Thursday night when the Dallas Cowboys visit the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who grew up in nearby Dunedin, is a “damn proud” Buccaneers’ fan and is predicting the Tom Brady-led defending champs will be even better this year.

“I would not bet against them this year. They are going to be tough to beat,” he said Monday in Lakeland.

It’s also tough to understand the league’s COVID-19 protocols, the governor said, especially since they mandate a team must forfeit if a game is canceled because of a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players, and imposed different standards on players who have been inoculated and those who haven’t.

The NFL and NFL Players Association updated its COVID-19 protocols for the 2021 season last week. They require any staff working in close proximity to players be vaccinated but does not impose a vaccine mandate on players.

Under the protocols, vaccinated players must be tested once a week. Those who have not been fully vaccinated are to be tested daily.

Unvaccinated players who test positive are subject to at least a 10-day quarantine and fines. A vaccinated player who tests positive can return after two negative tests 24 hours apart and if asymptomatic for 48 hours.

DeSantis suggested asymptomatic players who test positive be allowed to continue playing.

“If somebody has had COVID and is vaccinated, all of these different things, then I’d hate to see them put out just for getting some type of asymptomatic, positive test,” he said. “So hopefully, they’ll have some rationality to that.”

As with “breakthrough” infections during the Major League Baseball season, vaccinated players who tested positive are quarantined for 7-10 days even though the vast majority were asymptomatic.

“I think we’ve learned now that these athletes, a lot of them even with fully vaccinated teams, are getting positive tests but they’re not getting seriously ill,” DeSantis said.

The Buccaneers are one of two NFL teams that boast a 100% vaccination rate among their 53 players and 16-man practice squads.

The Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars have not achieve universal vaccination but Jaguars’ head coach Urban Meyer said vaccination status played a role in roster decisions.

The governor said he’s looking forward to seeing games played in front of packed houses, recalling how February’s Super Bowl at Raymond James Stadium was limited to 22,000 people.

“It would have been nice to have more people there than were in the stadium,” DeSantis said. “And what my view was is ‘Look, you say you can only have 25,000 people. But yet after the game, you’ve got 100,000 people, you know, just swarming the streets.’ What honest difference does that make at that point?”

Among other stipulations in the NFL/NFL Players Association protocols:

  • Unvaccinated players can be fined $14,650 for refusing to wear a mask or maintain physical distance; going to an indoor night club or bar with more than 10 people in it; for attending house gatherings of more than 15 people without all guests wearing masks.
  • During games, unvaccinated inactive players must wear masks on sidelines but unvaccinated players suited up for the game will not be required to do so.
  • Unvaccinated players are prohibited from gathering in groups of more than three players outside of the club facility or team travel, can't take private transportation while on the road, nor leave the team hotel.