(Reuters) – New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty said it is an “absolute joke” that the National Football League (NFL) was looking to bring forward a deadline for players to opt out of the upcoming season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under an agreement approved by the league and the players’ union last month, players have the choice to opt out.
An ESPN report, quoting league sources, said the NFL was pushing to move the deadline from one week after the new collective bargaining agreement is signed to as early as Wednesday.
As many as eight New England players, including linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Patrick Chung, have chosen to skip the campaign.
“I think it is an absolute joke that the NFL is changing the opt-out period, mainly because they don’t want to continue to see guys opt out,” McCourty told U.S. media on Sunday.
“I’m sure they’re shocked about how many guys have opted out. I think it’s terrible that the league has changed that date.”
The Philadelphia Eagles said on Sunday coach Doug Pederson had tested positive, while Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has been placed on the COVID-19 reserve list.
NFL training camps opened across the country last week, with the season scheduled to start on Sept. 10.
(Reporting by Arvind Sriram in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)