The NFL made the pretty much inevitable decision on Monday to cancel all five of its scheduled international games for the 2020 season.
The league had been planning to play two games at London’s Wembley Stadium - which has hosted an NFL game for 13 consecutive seasons - two at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in North London and a game at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.
NFL update on 2020 season schedule.— NFL UK (@NFLUK) May 4, 2020
The decision comes as the league works to determine how to hold a season this fall while dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, NFL executive vice president, chief strategy and growth officer Christopher Halpin told NFL.com:
“After considerable analysis, we believe the decision to play all our games domestically this season is the right one for our players, our clubs, and all our fans in the US, Mexico and UK. We greatly appreciate the support of our governmental and stadium partners in Mexico and the United Kingdom, who all agree with this decision, and we look forward to returning for games in both countries in the 2021 season.
“We also thank our incredible fans in those territories for their passionate support of the NFL. We will continue to serve them through our outstanding media partners and by being active supporters of both grassroots football and COVID-19 relief efforts in Mexico and the UK.”
The NFL’s decision means that the Cleveland Browns will not be making a trip to London for the second time in four seasons.
Cleveland was in line to be the opponent for one of the two games that the Jacksonville Jaguars were planning to play as “home games” this fall. The Jaguars announced in February that they were keeping their home games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears in Jacksonville, and with the Miami Dolphins already being selected for an international home game, the potential opponents for the Jaguars came down to the Browns, Detroit Lions, Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts.
The Browns are a team with several big-name players that are familiar to fans outside of Cleveland, most notably wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. as he is also one of the ambassadors to the NFL Academy in London, which made them a likely candidate.
That is off the table now, so when the NFL releases the 2020 schedule later this week, the Browns will be making the trip to Jacksonville for the first time since 2014. Cleveland has a 3-5 record all-time as a visiting team against the Jaguars.
The Browns made their last appearance in London in 2017, when they lost to the Minnesota Vikings, 33-16, at Twickenham Stadium. For what it is worth, of the 22 starters for the Browns that day, only four remain on the roster - wide receiver Rashard Higgins, tight end David Njoku, left guard Joel Bitonio and center J.C. Tretter.