When NFL and NFLPA officials descended upon Nashville to review the Tennessee Titans' COVID-19 outbreak, it put the team in position to potentially face discipline for how they followed the jointly negotiated protocols. Several teams and coaches have already been fined for singular violations, and if the Titans are found to have one or more issues, they could be next.
The Titans had 10 players on their COVID-19 reserve list, and just Saturday they had defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons and two coaches test positive. The list grew further on Sunday as the team announced it was adding fullback Khari Blasingame to the reserve/COVID-19 list. As there is no transaction wire Sunday, Blasingame will be added to the list on Monday.
Sources say the NFL and NFLPA, who could wrap up their investigation in a few days, are looking into whether protocols were violated on wearing the mandatory Kinexon tracking devices, leading to gaps in tracking data used in contact tracing, and whether individuals failed to timely report symptoms they or their family members were experiencing, among other things.
After the Titans outbreak and positive tests with multiple other teams, the NFL will hold a call Monday with head coaches and GMs from across the league, per sources. The message: If we want to finish this season, there can be no complacency. Everyone plays a role. Protocols aren't failing, people are. The hope is that these situations are a wakeup call.
Meanwhile, the Patriots-Chiefs game originally scheduled for today is postponed to either Monday or Tuesday after New England quarterback Cam Newton and Chiefs practice squad QB Jordan Ta'amu tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Both facilities closed immediately.
New England's tests from Saturday came back clean, a source said. If both teams have no more positives through Sunday, the game could be played on Monday -- the preference for both teams to disrupt the schedule as little as possible.
One change the league would consider, sources say, is to push the playoffs back a week to create a buffer week -- Week 18 -- to handle schedule alterations due to COVID. It would mean just one week between the championship games and the Super Bowl, but it would not be unprecedented.
The league always expected there to be positive tests and situations such as these, and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills has said it repeatedly. Caution and limiting the spread is key. As for why the Patriots-Chiefs game was postponed and the Falcons game last week wasn't (despite a positive test from cornerback A.J. Terrell), the answer is that it was determined Newton and Ta'amu had far more close contacts than Terrell.
If the Patriots play the Chiefs on Monday -- with New England potentially flying to Kansas City on Monday -- and are on track for their next game against the Denver Broncos, there is a real chance Brian Hoyer starts both. Newton would have to pass two COVID-19 tests once the virus leaves his body and doing so over a seven-day period regardless of if he has symptoms or not is no easy task.
While the Titans have had 13 new positive cases since last Sunday's game in Minnesota, plus two more the prior week when a practice-squad player and a coach tested positive, the Vikings have had no positive cases and traveled to Houston on Saturday for Sunday's game against the Texans. Protocols normally don't allow for game-day testing, but all Vikings players and personnel will undergo a rapid-result "point of care" at the team hotel Sunday morning before they're allowed to go to the stadium.
That's something that could be instituted league-wide, sources say, if the situation warrants.
The Titans' facility remains closed until further notice, and it would take consecutive days of clean testing at least to change. As of now, their game against the Bills is on.
The Vikings' facility reopened Thursday under supplemental intensive protocols that include daily point of care testing, fully virtual meetings and mandatory use of personal protective equipment in practice, including masks or mouth shields and gloves (with the exception of quarterbacks' throwing hands).
As for the Titans, multiple coaches have tested positive who spend games in the upstairs coaching booth. Plexiglass dividers have been added and social distancing observed in that area this season, but people are largely stationary and air flow isn't as good as on the sideline. Between that area and the team plane, there were multiple added risk factors for COVID-19 transmission on the Titans' trip to Minnesota that may have contributed to the additional new positive cases in recent days.
They will likely return to their deep-cleaned building with greatly enhanced protocols, along with other common-sense changes -- making sure the play-caller and backup play-caller don't spend time close to each other, for instance. One of many small changes aimed at keeping everything intact.