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NFL on Dez Bryant: We reviewed all data and “made the safest possible decision”

The NFL pulled Dez Bryant from the Cowboys-Ravens game shortly before kickoff due to an inconclusive COVID test. Mike Florio and Chris Simms dive deeper into how it all went down in Baltimore.

Ravens receiver Dez Bryant being pulled off the field before Tuesday night’s game against the Cowboys was a new one for the NFL.

But the NFL said it followed all its COVID-19 protocols, including contact tracing, before allowing the game to proceed.

“The process is consistent with how we have addressed a player positive, including the contact-tracing process,” Dawn Aponte, the NFL’s chief football administrative officer, said in a Wednesday conference call. “I would say one of the complicating factors, obviously, was the timing for the club. It was past the 90-minute mark, pregame, which is the final time that the club is able to set their active roster for the game. That was different than what we had experienced in the past. But in terms of the scenario, certainly not something that we hadn’t previously contemplated and discussed, and as always health and safety dictates. At the end of the day, that is how the decision is arrived, and that was how it was determined that Dez would be removed, and there were no other close contacts identified.”

The league previously has had players unknowingly participate in games while positive. Ravens running backs JK Dobbins and Mark Ingram are among those who tested positive on the day of a game, but the league and team did not receive those results until later in the day after the game had ended.

If the Ravens had played earlier Tuesday, if they were playing on the road, or if their team facility was not located as close as it is to the BioReference Laboratories Maryland facility, Bryant likely would have played.

The NFL and the team received notification -- while Bryant was on the field before pregame warmups -- that Bryant’s test from Tuesday morning returned an inconclusive result. He then was taken off the field for a point-of-care test that came back positive.

Bryant was ruled out, and the NFL used its standard three-part review for contact tracing.

“I made the final determination that there were no high-risk close contacts to the case, so there was no need to remove anyone else,” Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said. “I would say it was a very straight-forward review simply because there were very few contacts identified by the Kinexon data. I think that’s a reflection of the fact that this club has been under our intensive protocol and certainly has done a tremendous job with compliance around their facility leading up to the game yesterday. So there were simply very few contacts to be reviewed, and with the cooperation of the player involved, we did not identify any other worrisome contacts.

“But the same exact process was followed in this case as we do in every case. We made that determination using the same group of people and the same process, and the fact that we were able to do it fairly quickly is not reflective a lack of thoroughness in the process. It’s just simply the amount of data to be sorted through that allowed us to do that.”

Sills was asked directly about photos posted and then deleted by the Ravens’ official website that showed Bryant interacting with individuals on the field before his test results came back. “Lots of hugs between Dez Bryant and Cowboys players/coaches/staff early in warmups,” the tweet from the team said.

Sills said “the brevity of the interactions and the outdoor nature of it is certainly an important factor here.”

“We took all of the data that we had in hand and made the safest possible decision,” Sills said. “All interactions are not created equal when it comes to risk. To have a high-risk close contact, there’s a really a matrix of four-different variables which include cumulative exposure time, the distance, the ventilation available and the use of a mask. So you’re always looking for the interplay and the various weighing of those interactions. Again, every interaction does not carry an equal risk.”

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones echoed that when asked about interactions with Bryant.

“Everybody was respectful of the protocol,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan. “Everybody had masks on. The conversations were short, and, of course, it was outside.”