While the blast furnace for COVID-19 continues to burn throughout the NFL – rising to more than 550 player infections in December and about 25 percent of all active players – The Philadelphia Eagles unilaterally made their own extra layer of defense heading into a crucial Week 17 game.
They break up all their quarterbacks and offensive play callers and keep them in separate rooms inside the team’s training facility. The goal is to avoid risking the potential nightmares other franchises face this week, including the Indianapolis Colts placing unvaccinated starting quarterback Carson Wentz on the COVID / reserve list and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians testing positive for COVID. The Colts are fighting to stay in the playoffs, and the Bucs are fighting for home advantage in the off-season. Meanwhile, the Eagles are in an even more desperate battle, sitting as the seventh playoff seed in the NFC and in need of a win Sunday and a little help to win a playoff spot.
With such risks in mind, Philadelphia created some unique precautions. Keeping all three quarterbacks – Jalen Hurts, Gardner Minshew and Reid Sinnett – apart will minimize the chance that a positive COVID result can spread and ultimately remove the top two steps in the quarterbacks space that we have seen happen with other NFL teams in recent weeks. The same will apply to head coach Nick Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, who are the Eagles’ two offensive play callers on match day. Philadelphia quarterbacks meetings will also remain virtual for the rest of this season.
It’s a smart and creative move that shows NFL teams are willing to take their COVID action beyond the league’s basic protocols, knowing it could preserve a playoff (and perhaps future postseason) victory in these final weeks.
“We certainly did various things that were not mandated a few weeks ago and we will continue to do so,” Sirianni told reporters on Tuesday. “We talk even more through as staff today. I talked to a couple of other head coaches [in the NFL] and tried to figure out what they were doing. For we all know that in order to win this game this week, we need all hands on deck. And so what is the best course of action? Of course, I talk to our doctors and our coaches to find out the best course of attack. … We are definitely going to make even more adjustments than we need, just to keep everyone safe. And quarterbacks, yes, quarterbacks will be in separate rooms. “
While it does not prevent quarterbacks from practicing together, it removes the aspect of having them in a confined space together indoors, giving a greater risk of COVID infection than outdoors.
That’s something that other NFL teams also seem to be considering. Three executives who spoke to Yahoo Sports said they held meetings on Tuesday with coaches to discuss the possibility of moving to all-virtual meetings and also take additional precautions for key players such as quarterbacks, offensive and defensive play-callers – as well as other areas of the list can not afford even the slightest bit of extra wear and tear in the coming weeks.
“Where we want to maintain some depth or may have lost some depth, there will be considerations to strengthen things around certain areas of the team,” said an AFC general manager. The position meetings are basically virtual now anyway, but there are a few extra steps that can be performed for some individual players without it having to be basically removed from interaction in the building.
“It’s a fine line because we do not want to isolate guys [from their teammates] inside the complex, but I would probably just say that there will be many closed doors that are usually open if that makes sense. “There just has to be some increased awareness – even more awareness than there is – for some guys.”
While it may seem a little awkward, it’s hardly different than putting quarterbacks in red shirts in practice and telling defenders not to be touched. NFL players know the score when it comes to who gets special treatment, and if it means creating a kind of invisible bubble around the most influential players or positions on the team, it leans into the wins and postseason space that the whole roster is fighting for.
Honestly, any team that does not follow the Eagles’ plan at this point would be foolish. The Colts should have separated Wentz and Jonathan Taylor and other key players the moment the COVID infection rose inside their building, especially knowing that Wentz is unvaccinated and subject to a higher degree of control when it comes to symptomatic infection than other players . You can bet it would definitely have made the New England Patriots feel better at the moment, with the backup quarterback Brian Hoyer is reportedly on his way to the COVID reserve list – increases the fear that the starter Mac Jones may have been exposed to COVID. Even against the humble Jacksonville Jaguars, the loss of both Jones and Hoyer could have major consequences on Sunday.
At some point, the teams have to weigh the risk by does not take the extra steps to protect key players, especially when there is the argument that a team is giving an advantage away to an opponent taking extra precautions. If anything, it’s just another layer of protection created organically by clubs in a constantly evolving landscape with the league’s COVID protocols. As it stands, test changes have already been made to get vaccinated asymptomatic players back on the field as soon as possible. Now that the NFL is adopting the CDC advice on asymptomatic quarantine – shortening the period from 10 days to five – it will be easier than ever to get vaccinated and unvaccinated players back in the fold on game day.
Even with the NFL bending more than ever away from stringent protocols, there will still be teams implementing some intelligence and moving further ahead of the pack. The Eagles do. The question now is who will be next.