Habib: What's it like when two Dolphins players opt not to play because of COVID? 'Aw, man,' Wilson says

Hal Habib
Palm Beach Post
Receiver Allen Hurns, who sat out last season because of COVID concerns, catches a pass during this month's offseason workouts with the Dolphins.

DAVIE — Of the three players the Dolphins made available to reporters Wednesday, two were receivers Allen Hurns and Albert Wilson.

It wasn’t a coincidence.

Hurns and Wilson fit the incredibly rare profile of NFL players in the prime of their careers who sat out an entire season, and not in a huff over their contracts. It also wasn’t because they weren’t healthy, but rather a desire to stay that way.

More:Live: Dolphins minicamp report, plus is Flores worked up over Tua Tagovailoa's five-INT day?

More:Miami Dolphins sign British offensive tackle who became hooked on NFL seeing them on TV

More:Miami Dolphins' Noah Igbinoghene: 'I’m growing up as a man'

They were the Dolphins’ two COVID opt-outs, and Wednesday, they shared what it was like seeing their teammates — they could still be called teammates, right? — playing games that under other conditions, they’d be playing, too.

Might as well say this up front: No regrets. Both Hurns and Wilson said if they had to do it all over again, they’d make the same decision they made last summer.

“One-hundred percent,” Hurns said.

Dolphins receiver Albert Wilson, going through a drill earlier this month in Davie, said it was the right decision to sit out the 2020 season due to COVID.

The conviction they made the right choice for themselves and their families does not mean they each made an easy choice to live with at 1 p.m. Sundays.

Was there ever a time they wished they were out on the field?

“Aw, man,” Wilson said. “Every single game.”

Did Hurns question his decision?

“There was never a time,” he said.

Never? Before anyone takes that as a sign Hurns doesn’t love the game, there’s something everyone needs to know: He loves Chase Hurns more.

Diaper duty aside, Hurns loves playing Dad

Chase is Allen’s son, born Oct. 21. Although Chase conveniently arrived during the Dolphins’ bye week, Allen was grateful that every week in 2020 was a bye week for him because of the quality Dad time that he otherwise never would have experienced. When’s the last time you saw a quote like this from an active NFL player:

“My favorite part probably was just putting him down for a nap in my arms. Just seeing him just sleep. Watching a baby sleep is like the most precious thing for me.”

Hurns did pause to mention the flip side to playing Dad: “Of course, not the changing Pampers and things like that. That wouldn’t be my favorite.”

Today, we know the NFL managed to get through the entire 256-game season with only minor alterations to the schedule. Some players got sick. Some were careless. But this was always going to be a one-week-at-a-time deal. Nobody knew there definitely would be a Super Bowl until just before Tom Brady came close to discovering whether the Lombardi Trophy could float.

“Just mostly the uncertainty of what was going on and not having facts on what was going on in the world,” Wilson said. “It was kind of scary with what we had (going) on in my household. I totally based the decision off that.”

It should come as no surprise that both Wilson and Hurns have been vaccinated. Hurns said he got his in March. He wasn’t wasting time.

“I did it to protect me and family,” he said. “If there’s people who don’t want to get it, to each his own, but I felt much safer — me getting it and me being around the guys and things like that.”

No fear of repercussions for opting out

The Dolphins have not said how many players have been vaccinated. The NFL sent a memo to teams Wednesday making it clear that while the league won’t mandate that players and staffers be vaccinated, life will be quite complicated for those who balk, including continued daily testing, physical distancing, inability to leave the team hotel to go to restaurants on road trips and inability to partake in endorsement activities.

It would be a PR nightmare, however, if any team used opting out as cause to release a player. But good luck proving it wasn’t a contributing factor in the case of a close call. Hurns and Wilson both said they made their decisions without fear of repercussions. 

“I just feel like if I get the opportunity to go out on the field, I’m going to be OK,” Wilson said. “And that’s what I went with. I wasn’t too worried about anything else — just the safety of my family and myself.”

Hurns and Wilson were welcomed back to Davie. Expecting that would be the case, they knew if they took opting out as a way to take a one-year vacation and didn’t work out on their own, the results would be obvious the minute they stepped back on the practice field.

“There’s always a little rust from any player after having some time off, but I think they look really good,” coach Brian Flores said. “They’re both in good shape. I think they’re both running well, moving well, picking up the offensive concepts well.”

That’s on the practice field. Walking into the building for the first time, well …

“I kind of felt like a rookie,” Hurns said. “Just coming in, trying to figure out like what we’re doing, what’s next and things like that.”

Hurns and Wilson tried to use last fall as a learning experience. It appears it was just that.

“I can say I kind of became more of a student of the game and was able to kind of watch the overall game instead of just being the receiver,” Wilson said.

Hurns: “It’s kind of interesting watching it from a different perspective because there would be times where I could see a play, but I don’t know exactly what’s going on. I could say that, ‘OK, he should’ve had this catch’ or ‘somebody should’ve made this,’ but at the end of the day, I don’t know. So that’s a good thing from watching it from a different perspective."