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A developing COVID-19 crisis in the NFL on Saturday had teams reluctantly drawn into a game of “Whose situation is the worst?”
Cases continue to mount among the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, who were supposed to play on Thanksgiving night but whose game was postponed until Tuesday.
On the opposite coast, Santa Clara County announced more stringent restrictions amid an uptick in cases, including a temporary ban on contact sports until Dec. 21 — meaning the San Francisco 49ers cannot play host to their home games scheduled for Dec. 7 and 13. They play in Santa Clara at Levi’s Stadium.
And the wildest situation is in Denver, where all four of the Broncos’ quarterbacks have been ruled out of Sunday’s game against New Orleans amid contact-tracing concerns following third-stringer Jeff Driskel testing positive for the virus during the week. Unavailable are starter Drew Lock, backup Brett Rypien, and practice-squad veteran Blake Bortles.
“Guess ima have to get my Lamar Jackson on,” tweeted Broncos rookie receiver Jerry Jeudy, referring to the elusive Ravens quarterback.
As it is, Denver might turn to practice-squad receiver Kendall Hinton, who played three seasons of quarterback at Wake Forest before moving to wide receiver, or running back Royce Freeman, who threw five passes in high school and one as a freshman at Oregon in 2014.
At their annual fall meeting, NFL owners and executives discussed going to great lengths to avoid postponing games, and specifically addressed the possibility that an entire position group might not be available to a team because of the virus.
In a memo sent to all teams after that Oct. 13 meeting, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote that medical considerations and government directives will be paramount in determining when a game should be postponed.
Goodell wrote that in light of additional roster flexibility games will not be postponed or rescheduled “simply to avoid roster issues caused by injury or illness affecting multiple players, even within a position group.”
Even before COVID-19, the NFL made it standard operating procedure to have an alternate stadium where each game could be played. So the league is prepared to move those 49ers games – against Buffalo and Washington – to an alternate site or sites. According to an individual with knowledge of the specific discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, there has been a plan in place for months in the event of such a ban.
“We are working with the NFL and our partners on operational plans and will share details as they are confirmed,” the 49ers said in a statement.
The NFL has already ordered that all 32 team facilities be closed on Monday and Tuesday to combat the outbreak.
The Ravens on Saturday added six more players to the COVID list, comprising players who either tested positive or had close contact with someone who did, bringing their total to 18. That’s the worst outbreak of any team this season, and leaves them with one quarterback and three defensive linemen.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, placed starting running back James Conner on the COVID list, bringing its total to four players.