NFL's coronavirus plan promises to get ugly, but hopefully not dangerous

NFL's coronavirus plan promises to get ugly, but hopefully not dangerous

It’s fun to think about who might win the Bears’ quarterback competition, or how good Khalil Mack can be in 2020, or if this is the year Anthony Miller and Roquan Smith break out.

It’s less fun to think none of it may matter. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci floated Wednesday the idea that the NFL may need to “bubble” its teams to pull off the 2020 season amid the ongoing and dangerous COVID-19 pandemic. He also cast some doubt the NFL could play its season at all if a second wave of the virus hits this fall. 

I hope he's wrong, but I'm also nowhere near as smart as one of the nation's pre-eminent experts on infectious diseases. 

MORE: Why Bears desperately need Mitch Trubisky to win their QB competition

Time is running out on a league that thought it had nothing but time, while hockey and basketball shut down and baseball’s Broke Billionaires whined about “biblical” financial losses. Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano mentioned July 20 as an expected date for players and full coaching staffs to report to their facilities. That’s in just over a month. 

The NFL will do whatever it can to play a 2020 season, though — that much is clear. But COVID-19 doesn’t care about what the NFL wants. This easily transmissible, deadly virus with no reliable cure, treatment or vaccine will dictate what the 2020 NFL season looks like, if there’s a season at all. 

But let’s say there is a season. Because I really, really, really hope there’s a season. 

It’s hard to imagine there being true, COVID-19 free bubbles as Dr. Fauci mentioned. The amount of essential personnel it takes to play a pro football game is at or above 100. It's unreasonable to ask for 32 of those large bubbles to be in place for half the year. 

But either way, an NFL season is going to look and be weird at best — and not just because it’s hard to imagine fans being in the stands for any game. Hopefully, "weird" or "ugly" never becomes "dangerous."

What will Wednesday’s injury report — the first of the week — look like? How many players will be out with an “illness?” A positive COVID-19 test would likely rule a player out for two weeks, minimum, even if they’re asymptomatic. 

And if a player is symptomatic, it’s not as simple as him returning to play after a couple of negative COVID-19 tests. Denver Broncos edge rusher Von Miller took 17 days off after contracting the novel coronavirus and told the Washington Post “I still feel my lungs trying to get back in shape.”  

There’s a chance COVID-19 could decimate a personnel grouping, if not a team, for a month or more during the 2020 season.  It’s a threat every team will have to be prepared for in a way that’s deeper than football-speak’s reflexive “next man up” mentality. 

“Who knows if you’re going to have to sit three wide receivers one week because they’re all sick?” Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor mused. “I couldn’t predict how this is going to go.”

Nobody can — although, again, one week might be generous. And that's not even accounting for potential hospitalizations or, God forbid, deaths. COVID-19 has disproportionately affected the Black community, and obesity is a risk factor in the disease becoming serious. The majority of NFL players are Black; most linemen are clinically obese (defined as having a BMI of 30 or higher), even if they're in outstanding physical shape otherwise. 

It's a potentially serious problem for a sport in which social distancing is completely impossible. 

"It's scary to think that most of my job is physical contact with other players," Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said. "And so boy, I don't know. I don't know. I want to be safe and I'm sure they're going to do their best to make sure we're in the best possible situation in order to be able to play this game and do it, right? But it's scary. That's how I feel."

MORE: Five things we learned from Bears assistant coaches this week

Hopefully the NFL can pull this thing off. Their return-to-facilities plan read like guidelines for a hospital more than a place for football players to practice and congregate. Hopefully mask wearing, hand washing, frequent testing and swift isolation can prevent outbreaks during the season. 

But this also feels completely ridiculous, thinking about playing a football season in the middle of a pandemic. But then again...playing a football season in the middle of a pandemic is actually completely ridiculous, isn't it?

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Under Center Podcast: Will Cole Kmet, Jaylon Johnson make rookie-year impacts?


Under Center Podcast: Will Cole Kmet, Jaylon Johnson make rookie-year impacts?

Bears rookies have a lot of pressure on them in their first seasons but can they produce at the level the team needs them to, to win?

JJ Stankevitz and Cam Ellis discuss the Bears rookies, provide updates on Roquan Smith and discuss the changes to the Under Center Podcast.

(1:46) - Changes to the Under Center Podcast

(5:00) - Chances that Jaylon Johnson may not start for the Bears

(10:55) - Can Cole Kmet handle being a full-time starter in his first year?

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Bears news and analysis.

(17:00) - Roquan Smith updates

(21:40) - How will Khalil Mack perform this year

(30:20) - What do the coordinators and coaches think about the QB competition?

Listen here or below.

Under Center Podcast



Here's where Bears fans stand on Chicago's QB competition after first week of training camp

Here's where Bears fans stand on Chicago's QB competition after first week of training camp

The first week of training camp is in the books, and while it certainly wasn't anything like what fans are accustomed to this time of year, it is still training camp, and the Chicago Bears do still have a quarterback competition underway, regardless of how odd it may seem.

Padded practices won't get underway for another week and there's been very little intel gathered from the t-shirts and shorts practices aside from what the coaches and players have shared on Zoom. We won't have any preseason games to scout and there will be very limited media access to the practice sessions once they get started (for real).

Regardless, Bears fans are an opinionated bunch even if there isn't much information available about how the battle between Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles is unfolding so far. What we do know is that both quarterbacks will be given an equal chance to win the job, and QB coach John DeFilippo is going to evaluate every aspect of every throw in every practice so the team can reach the best decision possible.

So who does the fanbase prefer at this point now that we're inching closer to Week 1 (five weeks away, to be exact)? Has Foles started winning over the Trubisky truthers, or does the former second overall pick still have the confidence of the fanbase entering his fourth season in town?

I decided to poll Bears fans on Twitter on this topic, and the results, as you could imagine, were very close. Of the 310 responses I received, 56% of the voters prefer Foles over Trubisky. Essentially, the job is still completely up for grabs, even in the eyes of the fans. The results are also proof that neither quarterback is overwhelmingly favored (from a support standpoint) by the fanbase. The point here is that Bears fans appear willing and ready to support whoever wins the job, which is great for the team overall.

There is no favorite to win this competition. Not with the coaches, and apparently, not with the fans either.

May the best quarterback win.