The Cowboys will be missing a Pro Bowl offensive lineman for Week One. The positive test generated by guard Zack Martin continues a troubling trend for America’s Team.
As noted by Michael Gehlen of the Dallas Morning News, the Cowboys have now had nine players on COVID reserve in the past 16 days. Last year, for the entire season, the Cowboys had only seven.
It’s a stark reminder that, even though many football fans have moved on from the pandemic, the pandemic hasn’t moved on from football. And the problem for the league is that the relaxed protocols for vaccinated players have set the stage, given the fact that the Delta variant is breaking through the vaccines, for the league to experience even more positive cases than last year.
Last night, for example, Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence sat in a suite at Bank of America Stadium for the Georgia-Clemson game, maskless and with plenty of other people around. As with so many of the crowd shots from the first weekend of college football, it was a scene that looked like every football season before the pandemic.
Lawrence presumably is vaccinated. He can still catch it. He can return a positive in his next (or in any) once-per-week test. If it happens, he’ll likely miss at least one game.
It’s unlikely that an uptick in positive tests will result in games being scrapped. However, for those paying close attention to the protocols and the trends, a far different vibe exists now than in early July. The league, determined to play all games, won’t be troubled by the reality that, here and there, key players won’t be available for one or more weeks. But it will definitely affect for some teams the outcome of games and, in some cases, the outcome of seasons.
Ultimately, it’s no different than the ever-present risk of injury. Within the next couple of weeks, someone will tear an ACL or blow out an Achilles tendon and his team will struggle to thrive without him. Unlike injuries, the COVID risk is avoidable. The teams that best persuade all players to behave like they did in 2020 will be the most likely to take advantage of the strategic disadvantages that will plague other teams.
Frankly, it’s another reason to believe in the Bucs. With a 100-percent vaccination rate, a coach who already has said players will be on lockdown for road games, a possible return of mask mandates in the building, and a quarterback singularly focused on securing his eighth ring, the lingering realities of the pandemic and the lax manner in which some teams will handle it provide the defending champions with another way to bend victory in their direction.