Jalen Richard could be on the roster bubble after the addition of free agent running back Kenyan Drake and the implementation of strict Covid-19 protocols for unvaccinated players and personnel.
Richard has been a member of the Raiders since 2016. He joined the team as an undrafted free agent. His first NFL carry came against his beloved New Orleans Saints in the Superdome. As fate would have it, the play resulted in an electrifying 75 yard touchdown.
Richard went on to have a stellar rookie campaign as he helped the team to a 12-4 regular season record. They broke a 13 year playoff drought by earning their first playoff appearance since the 2002 season. He was so explosive that legendary sportscaster Chris Berman bestowed the nickname “Rocket” upon him.
Richard on Vaccines
On July 10th, 2019, Richard set Twitter ablaze when he tweeted that he will not vaccinate his children. This controversial tweet received a lot of attention as expected. Some of it was positive, some not so positive, and some was downright appalling.
In a series of subsequent tweets, he shed more light into his decision making. Vaccines have always been a touchy subject as there are people on both sides of the argument. What shouldn’t be debated is Richard has the right to choose what does and doesn’t enter his children’s bodies. Some might not agree with him, but as a free American, he has that right.
Fast forward to the present and you cannot go anywhere without hearing the word “vaccine.” This time around it’s a different situation. The entire world has felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the pandemic victimized the NFL as well. The majority of stadiums were empty for the entire season. As the season progressed some stadiums allowed fans, but overall, the attendance was down 92%.
The NFL forced teams to adhere to stringent testing policies in 2020. Some organizations fared better, but some, like the newly relocated Las Vegas Raiders, were fined numerous times for violations. In total, the Raiders tallied $1.185 Million in fines for noncompliance.
Richard tweeted the following after the latest 2021 COVID-19 protocols were released by the league:
I encourage all unvaccinated players to read the rules-know em like you know your plays. We playing in jail this year and you should act as such. The only benefit we have is we still get tested everyday, but protect yourselves this season. Play ball and go home – sad but a must!– Richard via Twitter, July 22, 2021
Richard’s Twitter account is unavailable as of the time of this writing.
Competition in the Backfield
Here is where things get interesting. Kenyan Drake now projects as the secondary back to fellow Alabama alumnus Josh Jacobs. While the two missed playing on the same team by one year, there is no doubting their Crimson Tide brotherhood. Both won National Championships at Alabama and now they get to play in the same backfield in the professional ranks.
Drake received a hefty two-year, $14.5 million contract with $11 million fully guaranteed. That’s some serious coin to pay a guy that is going to be Jacobs’s backup. Which leads us to Richard. He enters the final year of his contract extension he signed in 2020.
Richard will earn $3.5 million with $1.125 million guaranteed. If the team decides to move on they will have to eat his $1.125 million in the form of dead cap space. It won’t impact the $182.5 million salary cap significantly, but for some perspective, it’s still more money than what defensive end Maxx Crosby will make ($1.045 million) in 2021.
Currently the Raiders have Jacobs, Drake, Richard, Alec Ingold, Theo Riddick, Garrett Groshek, and Trey Ragas on the roster as they head into training camp. It wouldn’t surprise anyone to see them add another back for competition. Jacobs, Drake, and Ingold are all locks to make the final roster. That leaves one or two spots open for competition.
Richard would seem like the logical pick out of the remaining bunch, but you shouldn’t be too quick to pencil him in. The majority of Raider Nation is aware of Richard’s stance on vaccines and it remains to be seen whether the organization will consider his unvaccinated status when making final roster cuts.
2021 COVID-19 Protocols
The recent memo outlines the league’s COVID-19 protocols for the upcoming 2021 season. In summary it states:
- If an outbreak is caused by unvaccinated players and it subsequently causes games to be cancelled the offending team forfeits the game, takes a loss in playoff seeding, will face a stiff fine from the league, possible loss of draft picks, and players on both teams will not get paid.
- Additional rules for unvaccinated players are as follows: Players will be tested daily, they must wear a mask at the facility, they are not allowed to leave the team hotel when traveling, and they can’t eat meals with their teammates.
- Coaches and staffers who aren’t fully vaccinated won’t be able to work directly with players in training camp. Furthermore, media members that are not vaccinated will not be allowed into team facilities or NFL press boxes.
The NFL has lowered the boom on its players and coaches. They have made it abundantly clear that they want every team to hit the 85% fully vaccinated threshold to help mitigate any potential COVID-19 outbreaks.
The league is embarking on a 17 game regular season for the first time in its decorated history. Should a team suffer an outbreak causing multiple players to miss games, the league office believes it’s in their best interest to force a team to forfeit. It’s a difficult scenario to handle any way that you look at it.
What fans must understand is that the NFL is a business first and foremost. They’re going to do everything in their power to keep the money flowing. Owners saw significantly less revenue last season which in turn lead to a drop in the salary cap of 8%.
The backlash amongst players has already begun. Alongside Richard are noted stars Cole Beasley, Jalen Ramsey, DeAndre Hopkins, Matthew Judon, and Montez Sweat who have all spoken out about their apprehension towards taking a COVID-19 vaccine.
It’s clear that numerous players are troubled with the league’s mandates. On June 16th, 2021, the league revealed to teams how they must handle vaccinated and unvaccinated players during training camp and the preseason. These rules were indeed agreed upon by the NFLPA.
We will leave you with this thought. If an unvaccinated player like Richard is on the roster bubble it would not be surprising to see the team move on from Richard simply from a practicality standpoint. The juice might not be worth the squeeze to keep that player around.
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