The NFL’s COVID-19 strategy continues to hinge on the notion that players and others will get the virus, and that the league will intervene quickly and decisively by identifying those who have it and remove them from the facility, along with anyone else deemed to be in sufficiently close contact with those who have it.
That strategy will work, until it doesn’t. At some point, a team may have too many players who have tested positive, and too many collateral players who land on the COVID-19 reserve list as a proactive measure, to field a competitive complement of players.
For now, it’s a game of beat the clock. The league wants to get the games played, one after another and week after week, before the situation reaches critical mass in one or more NFL organizations.
The biggest challenge is coming. Thanksgiving potentially will become a national cornucopia of virus-sharing, with tens of thousands of mini-superspreader gatherings around tables and TVs throughout the country unfolding in a haze of tryptophan and Trump-triggered arguments. Then, as all the people who have been urged by the CDC to not travel next week travel back to their home cities, the spread will continue. And continue. And continue.
By the middle of December, that’s when the NFL may arrive at a moment of reckoning. The question is whether the league and the union agree to put the players in a home-market bubble before or after one or more games get canceled due to too many positives and too many other players beyond those who are positive landing on the COVID-19 reserve list.
In many respects, it’s amazing the NFL has made it this far without losing games. It will be even more amazing if that continues, without the league at some point putting all players, coaches, and essential staff in a hotel.