The NFL is almost back to business as usual – for vaccinated players.

The NFL and NFL Players Association have updated COVID-19 protocols to loosen restrictions for fully vaccinated players and to encourage others to get the vaccine.

Unvaccinated players must continue to get daily testing, wear masks and practice physical distancing. They won’t be allowed to eat meals with teammates, can’t participate in media or marketing activities while traveling, aren’t permitted to use the sauna or steam room and may not leave the team hotel or interact with people outside the team while traveling.

Vaccinated players will not have any of those restrictions, according to a memo sent to teams on Wednesday that was obtained by The Associated Press.

Media access to the press box, field and sidelines, locker room and postgame interview room will be available only to media members who are fully vaccinated.

Several players have expressed concerns about receiving the vaccine. The updated protocols give them more incentive to get it.

Players can be fined up to $50,000 for violating protocols.

Washington pass rusher Montez Sweat said last week he “probably won’t get vaccinated until I got more facts and that type of stuff, but I’m not a fan of it at all.”

Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold previously said he didn’t plan to get the vaccine.

“Obviously, they agreed to those terms for a reason,” Darnold said about the new protocols. “A lot of smart people came up with those restrictions and obviously they are there for a reason. In terms of my decision (on whether) to get vaccinated, I’m just going to keep that to myself. For me, it’s a personal decision that I’m going to make between me and people around me. So I’m just going to keep it within me and my tight circle. Those decisions are being made by very smart people and people that know what they’d doing obviously.”

Teams have brought in experts to discuss the vaccine with players and staff.

“They’re doing a great job of continuing to educate us and giving us resources and then kind of giving us the option to make that informed decision with where we’re at personally and go from there,” Minnesota Vikings wide reciever Adam Thielen said.

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert was asked if other players have spoken to him about the vaccine because he was a biology major at Oregon.

“I haven’t talked to too many people about it,” he said. “There’s a small group of guys that have been vaccinated, and I’ve been vaccinated. I thought if it’s available to be able to do all these things, it would help me in the long run. I think it’s better for everyone, but it’s up to everyone. So it’s their opinion. I think it’s a tough situation regardless, but nobody’s asked me too much.”

The vaccine has been a big issue for the Buffalo Bills throughout the offseason, with coaches and management pushing for vaccination to ease restrictions and players not wanting to talk about it.

“We feel like we know that in our country and around the league where and how things are improving, and to me there’s a direct correlation to people getting vaccinated,” Bills Coach Sean McDermott said. “I would like to continue to see our team move in that direction, continue to move an increased number of people that are getting vaccinated. … It’s good to have the guys here, but I think the reality of our situation is that now – but also for sure come the fall, training camp – protocols are going to continue to be enforced, in particular for those who are unvaccinated as it relates to the masking and the different things that are in place. Just trying to be real about it and make sure people understand what normal is gonna look like, in particular for those who are unvaccinated come the fall.”

BROWNS: QB Baker Mayfield, whose strong 2020 season seemingly ended any debate about whether he can lead the franchise over the long term, said he’s in no rush to get a contract extension.

“I’m just trying to win games,” Mayfield said before practice. “It’ll handle itself.”

Mayfield’s fifth-year contract option worth $18.8 million was picked up in April by the Browns, who are now considering whether to lock him up beyond the 2022 season.

The team has several other long-term deals to consider, with star running back Nick Chubb, cornerback Denzel Ward and guard Wyatt Teller all eligible for extensions.

Mayfield bounced back from a shaky second year in the NFL by leading the Browns last season to their first playoff appearance since 2003. He found his groove after Cleveland’s bye week and finished with 26 touchdown passes and eight interceptions in the regular season.

In the wild-card game, Mayfield threw three TD passes as the Browns stunned the rival Pittsburgh Steelers for their first playoff win since 1994.

JETS: Woody Johnson is happy to be back. And he wants nothing more than to see the New York Jets become winners.

That, of course, has been the charge of the team’s owner and chairman since he took over the franchise is 2000. But Johnson was away from football the last four-plus years while serving the country as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom under former President Donald Trump.

“There’s a certain element of being a new owner, in a way,” Johnson said in his first meeting with reporters since rejoining the franchise. “You have a chance to refresh. I can start a little bit anew.”

Johnson’s focus has returned to the field and he likes what he’s seeing from team president Hymie Elhai, GM Joe Douglas, Coach Robert Saleh – and the players, many of whom he met for the first time over the last few months.

“I think the hope that we all feel, that I certainly feel, after being at practice for the last 10 days and seeing the dynamic of the new coach Robert and Joe and Hymie, and how they work together in a new and different way that I haven’t seen before,” Johnson said.

“I think it’s a great harmony here and I’m really excited about it. I go to the field and I can see the players – I can see them when they walk out on the field. I can see a little pep in their step. So that’s really, really good to see.”

A lot happened while Johnson was gone.

With his brother, Christopher, in charge in his absence, the Jets fired Coach Todd Bowles, hired Adam Gase and then fired him after two seasons. Mike Maccagnan was fired as the GM, and Douglas replaced him. New York drafted Sam Darnold as its franchise quarterback but has since moved on after three subpar seasons and drafted Zach Wilson with the No. 2 overall pick. There was also last season played during a pandemic, when the Jets went 2-14 and were one of the league’s punchlines.

New York’s playoff drought – the longest active skid in the NFL – also reached a 10th consecutive season.

That’s something Johnson, of course, wants to see end – while balancing being patient as Douglas and Saleh build a foundation for success on the field.

“I don’t think `patience’ is the word I’d use,” Johnson said. “I feel it here with this team, I feel something that could be special. But it’s too early. We’re getting better every day, we see our mistakes and how we’re progressing. We’ll do everything in our power to put a winning team on the field – this year, (every) game.”

Johnson praised his brother’s handling of the team through adversity, and he also said he believed he learned a lot about leadership during his tenure as ambassador. He called that role “a gigantic honor” but acknowledged it was difficult to be away from the Jets because that “is the best job you can have in the world.”

Johnson declined to answer a question about Trump’s claims that the November election was stolen from him.

“If we could keep it to football, that would be good,” Johnson said.

But he did address accusations from last summer that he made racist and sexist comments while in his role as the ambassador.

“All of those allegations were looked at by the highest levels of the State Department,” Johnson said. “The Office of Civil Rights conducted an extensive survey and all of the allegations and concluded that none of it was substantiated. None of it.”

Johnson said his wife, Suzanne, was “absolutely furious” about the allegations because “this goes against my history and everything I’ve done for my entire life.” Johnson added that the accusations were “very, very hard on me to listen to all this stuff.”

Johnson’s tenure as ambassador officially ended in January after President Joe Biden assumed office. Johnson returned to the Jets shortly after, resuming his duties of overseeing the franchise.

And he wants what every other long-suffering Jets fan has desired since Joe Namath led the team to its only Super Bowl title in 1969.

“You’ve got to have faith,” Johnson said. “And you’ve got to see what’s actually going on. This is your team. You’ve probably had this team since you were 10, 11, 12. So you’ve had the faith. You see hope and you see leadership and a group coming together that can deliver to you what you want – and what we want, what the players want.”

Comments are not available on this story.