One of the benefits of getting vaccinated comes from the ability to leave town during the regular-season bye and, more immediately, the mini-bye over Labor Day weekend.
With the virus still spreading and vaccinated players traveling to and from various places where they may have been exposed to it, they now must be tested upon their return to work. And coaches are holding their breath for what may happen next.
Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports that he has “[t]alked or text[ed] with number of NFL coaches/execs who are nervous about COVID-19 testing today with the number of players who visited their former college teams’ opening games (and social gatherings) this past weekend.”
It’s possible that, given the incubation period, a vaccinated player who was exposed to the virus while, for example, attending a college football game (like Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence maskless in a suite at Georgia-Clemson) may not yet be positive for COVID. With weekly testing, it’s possible that the virus will be in and out of the symptoms of the vaccinated players before their next weekly test.
It’s also possible they’ll test positive, like Cowboys guard Zack Martin did. At this point, a positive test puts a vaccinated player’s availability in doubt for Week One, since a pair of negative outcomes at least 24 hours apart would be needed to clear the player to play.
That’s the flaw in the NFL’s current protocols. The incentives created to persuade players to get vaccinated create opportunities for players to develop a breakthrough case of COVID. It will be far less likely to put them in a hospital, but it will put them on the sideline, based on weekly testing. (The NFLPA has suggested daily testing for all players, vaccinated or not.)
And with vaccinated players not required to leave the facility after close-contact exposure, they could develop COVID and shed the virus before their next weekly positive test. Which could, given the way these protocols were developed and, more importantly, not adjusted as the Delta variant has raged, cause many more players to miss games than last year.
The Cowboys have had nine players on COVID reserve in the last 16 days. Last year, they had seven all season. Whether that’s an aberration or a harbinger remains to be seen.