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NFL needs a new (actual) COVID-19 contingency plan

Because its non-contingency plan is punishing the wrong people.

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Shelby Harris got it right.

When the Broncos were informed their game against the Patriots was going to be moved from Sunday to Monday this week, the defensive end took issue.

I wish I could, Shelby.

It sounds a little like another attempt by the NFL to protect a darling team, so that team can overcome the unfortunate fact that one of its players tested positive for COVID-19, infected two others (so far), and could possibly infect more.

The Broncos, who are coming off a mini-bye week and will now end up having a short week before playing the Dolphins in Week 6 through no fault of their own, thanks to three Patriots, including Newton and 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore, being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list this week.

I’m sorry Cam has COVID-19. I’m sorry Gilmore has it. I’m sorry any player has it.

But the Broncos should not be the team punished for the Patriots’ infections.

And before you think it’s just my bias against the Patriots (because, yeah, it is a little), I was appalled the NFL let the Patriots travel to play the Chiefs just two days after Newton tested positive. We knew more infections would be coming because we know the incubation period is between two and 14 days, with the strongest likelihood between two and five days.

At a minimum, the NFL should have rescheduled that game outside the five-day window. Hopefully none of the Chiefs players got infected (it’s hard to say that, but it’s true), though it’s hard to imagine none of them did.

And scheduling aside, it’s not fair to the Broncos to expose them to potentially infected but not yet COVID-positive players in New England.

If any more players test positive before game day, the game should be forfeited by the Patriots.

We all want there to be football, and it’s too late to bemoan how the NFL could have done this differently and not rushed the start of the season.

Following an outbreak among the Tennessee Titans, which is up to more than a dozen players, the NFL issued stricter rules for COVID-19 compliance - and stricter penalties.

Albert Breer wrote about the broader situation across the NFL, noting the outbreak at the Titans that is now putting a third opposing team in jeopardy after Tennessee had to alter its scheduled games in Weeks 3 and 4 and will likely have to this week as well.

“How can the league be preachy when it forced New England to travel and play the same day they flew, then travel back with so many potentially infected people? And to travel when Air COVID (a second plane carrying Newton’s close contacts) was necessary? And where is the evidence that the league’s priority is anything other than making sure the television networks get as much of their inventory as possible?”

The questions are good ones, and the NFL needs to answer.

I have a few suggestions:

  • Instead of trying to retro-fit games into a Monday Night Football doubleheader or a mid-week slot - particularly when infections could still be highly contagious - the NFL should consider an extension to the season, allowing several weeks for makeup games before the playoffs.
  • Allow teams even more practice squad players in case a major outbreak occurs and rescheduling is no longer an options.
  • Teams with an outbreak that puts more than two games in jeopardy should either have to forfeit those games or play with practice squad guys in order to keep the game as scheduled.
  • If a match-up cannot be rescheduled for whatever constraint, the team that caused the reschedule forfeits.

There is a lot of onus on the players to keep this season moving along safely - and that’s as it should be.

Head coach Vic Fangio has taken all this in stride and says he is confident the league and the players’ association will do the right things to keep everyone healthy and safe in order to play through the pandemic.

“I think everybody wants the game to be played on time, as scheduled. We certainly do,” Fangio said prior to the announced change. “But we understand with COVID that there’s going to be some improvising and adjusting that has to go on by everybody in the league at some point, and this would be our turn to be that adjustor. If they change it, we’ll adjust and be ready to go.”

Speaking to Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post, Fangio admitted the change makes it tougher on the team to have this schedule change - but he added that complaining about it does nothing.

“We can say: ‘This ain’t right. This is inconvenient.’ But I’m not going to let anything emotionally hijack me,” he said. “We all knew COVID was going to be disruptive to this NFL season. We’ve got to make the best of any situation.”

Kiszla and Fangio agree complaining about “this messed-up NFL season” won’t beat the Patriots - and they’re right.

Kiszla is also right when he argues that a player testing positive for COVID is not the same as a player getting injured because a positive test shuts down the whole team from practicing. But that’s also part of the point.

That consequence should be enough to keep players honest; no player wants to let down his team.

But apparently that incentive has not been quite enough, and so to avoid punishing other teams whose players are sticking to the protocols as inconvenient as they may be, the NFL needs a revised contingency plan.

Maybe one that takes a page out of the Tour de France playbook - any cycling team that had two or more riders test positive within seven days was automatically disqualified from the race.

The NFL might need to consider a comparable level of penalty if it wants to finish this season.

Broncos/NFL News

Why the NFL needs to end the Titans’ 2020 season — immediately
Even if the Titans were forced to forfeit games this season, there’s a likely scenario in which they’d be able to reach the postseason. So, what’s the appropriate punishment that deters these actions without negatively affecting other teams? Shut the Titans down for the rest of the season.

Chiefs remain COVID free, but reports say surrounding teams testing positive | FOX 4 Kansas City WDAF-TV | News, Weather, Sports
The Chiefs remain free of the coronavirus, but players on other teams in close proximity, like the Patriots and the Raiders, haven't been so lucky.

Kiszla: Life ain’t fair to the Broncos. Tough injuries. Bad schedule changes. Coach Vic Fangio vows: “I’m not going to let anything emotionally hijack me.” – The Denver Post
“The easy way out would be to just blow off this season and reload next year, when we don’t have to deal with injuries and there’s a COVID vaccine,” Fangio says.

Broncos-Patriots game postponed due to positive coronavirus tests within New England organization
The Broncos-Patriots game is the fourth to be impacted by coronavirus: Last week’s Pittsburgh-Tennessee game was postponed and the Patriots-Chiefs game was moved from Sunday to Monday. This week, the Buffalo-Tennessee game has been moved from Sunday to Tuesday. Next Thursday’s Kansas City-Buffalo game has been moved to Oct. 18.

Should the NFL bubble up after Titans’ outbreak? Some blueprints that could work – The Athletic
A full bubble a la the NBA won't happen for the NFL, but it could look to copy those bubble formats in each city or for the postseason.

Execs: Harsh punishment for Titans if COVID-19 protocols ignored – The Athletic
Around the league, execs question the Titans' leadership and opine on how the league should sanction the team.

Mile High Morning: Von Miller remaining hopeful for return to action before end of 2020 season
“If I can play, I’m going to play,

Broncos Legends: A look back through WR Brandon Marshall's Broncos career
As we continue our series that features prominent Broncos alumni, here's a look back at WR Brandon Marshall’s career in Denver.

As Drew Lock resumes practicing, Brett Rypien's ready to step up again for Broncos on Sunday
Lock was limited in Wednesday's practice and Fangio said "we'll see if we can build it from there" in terms of Lock's availability to start on Sunday against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

This Denver Broncos defense is better than you think - Mile High Report
We’re seeing the best play of Shelby Harris’ career.

Foles, Bears D hold off Brady's Bucs for 20-19 victory
It was the Bears defense that owned the night, stopping any Tom Brady histrionics on a final drive as Chicago defeated Tampa Bay, 20-19, on Thursday night.

Chargers name Justin Herbert their starting quarterback going forward
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NFL Power Rankings, Week 5: Bills are the real deal
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