NFL wrestles with the hard truths of COVID-19

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In the weeks and months preceding the 2020 season, the NFL created the impression that the reaction to players testing positive for COVID-19 would be to utter the mantra, “Next man up.” With the games now being played and issues arising (including an outbreak in Tennessee), the “next man up” shrug has yielded to teams holding their breath for the next man down.

The disconnect has become obvious. The league created maximum roster flexibility this year, with unlimited return from injured reserve after only three weeks and the ability to elevate up to 16 members of the practice squad to the 53-man roster as little as 90 minutes before kickoff.

So, in theory, a cluster of players could test positive on Saturday, the team could get the news on Sunday morning, and the team could then replace them and move on.

This perception definitely doesn’t mesh with reality. Even one positive test can cause a team to slam the brakes on everything, especially after the Titans outbreak. The situation in Nashville showed that the incubation period can keep a team and the league from realizing that there’s an outbreak until it’s too late.

That’s why teams now shut down even if there’s a presumed positive that has yet to be confirmed. That’s why the daily crop report, as leaked by Clarence Beeks to a small army of national media members between 7:30 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. ET, has so much importance — but also limited relevance.

For example, the news that the Patriots haven’t had a positive in the three days since cornerback Stephon Gilmore landed on the COVID-19 reserve list doesn’t mean the Patriots are out of the woods. The incubation period takes several days; someone who was exposed to Gilmore on Monday (including Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes) could flip from negative to positive on Saturday or Sunday.

Ditto for the Jets, if the presumptive positive becomes a confirmed positive. The Raiders remain in the incubation-period window, given the placement earlier this week of defensive lineman Maurice Hurst on the COVID-19 list. The Chiefs are there. The Titans have been there for nearly two weeks.

That’s why the league continues to keep schedules tentative pending further testing in New England and Tennessee. That’s why “next man up” doesn’t work with this disease. That’s why the NFL’s confounding willingness to accept that there will be positives that can be contained must become determination to eliminate all positive tests via 32 home-market bubbles.

8 responses to “NFL wrestles with the hard truths of COVID-19

  1. Tennessee is a different case. They wantonly skirted the protocols. There needs to be a message sent regardless of whether or not they go to bubbles. Because, without sufficient penalties in place, the bubble mandate could be equally ignored.
    Make an example of the Titans and get a firm grip on the 32 teams and their movements ASAP, or kiss the season good bye. Plain and simple.

  2. As much of a front of care and attention to the health and safety the NFL puts forth it comes down to four words: “Show me the money!”

  3. A couple months ago there was real doubt that there would even be a football season. I’m thankful for the games we’ve seen, and hoping for more.

  4. You can’t eliminate all positive tests. You can’t. The NFL was right to take a next man up stance on this and they’re wrong to go nuts over one positive test. If you’re positive, you’re out. You quarantine. Let’s minimize our positive tests. If you’re positive but the test doesn’t show it yet, I’m sorry but it isn’t that big of a deal. The players’ lives are not at stake here. Have we heard of anyone having anything more than mild symptoms? There have been 70,000 college students that have tested positive this fall and only three have been hospitalized. This isn’t a dangerous virus for people in this age group. Everyone who wanted to opt out opted out. There’s no evidence of transmission from one team to another during a game. There’s no chance of an outbreak in a community outside the team because everyone on the team is tested every day. I honestly can’t think of a single reason why you should be considering postponing a game if one person tests positive. There’s always the chance that someone could have it before testing positive but this presents a miniscule risk to everyone involved. The NFL is going to ruin its season by taking this overly protective approach.

  5. Yes there have been positives. How many of these positives required hospitalization? How many even required treatment? It’s getting really old to hear about cases only, over and over, with no mention of severity of cases or how many required treatment/hospitalization. Hopefully won’t delete this comment since it doesn’t incite panic.

  6. Treat it like the flu and move on. It’s not even affecting the players like the flu does. If they test positive, isolate them, and carry on. There is NO WAY the NFL will postpone or cancel the season. So all the typing even minutely referencing they will is just preposterous.

  7. I am confused and hoping someone can answer this question.
    I too thought with all of the changes to how the roster is to be managed, the NFL was moving to the “Next Man Up” approach. But how is this possible when one positive test requires the team to shot down the facility?

    I understand the need in Tennessee with the multiple positive tests in the same 48 hour period and beyond, but I believe New England has had to shut down it’s facility twice in two weeks. At least I think this is the case. I believe they shut down when Cam tested positive and went to remote learning, and I know for sure they shut down this week when Gilmore tested positive.

    How are teams supposed to move to the “Next Man Up” approach if the facility is closed and practices are cancelled?

  8. Covid is the titans biggest rival.
    Watch out for the titans the rest of the year. They are mad, and by the way.. no punishment is coming. Its a pandemic. Who knows what kind of virus shedder was in nashville infecting the team. Blame it on masks.. has vrabel been fined like those other coaches? No. Blame it on the workout..that was necessary at the time because the nfl told them they were playing the steelers with no ability to practice.
    You fans reak with entitlement. Forfeits? Ok lets see what you say if your team is crippled by a super shedding viral player like the titans were. They were the first, wont be the last.

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