The Eagles have three players on the COVID-19 list, they’ve got an all-pro right tackle who tested positive, they have a head coach who’s quarantined at home in South Jersey after testing positive and they’ve got a quarterbacks coach who was sent home because he was in close proximity to the head coach.
And practice hasn’t even started yet.
How do you play football like this?
We would all love to see the NFL find a way to play a 16-game season plus playoffs this fall, but each passing day brings more and more issues and more and more questions and more and more doubt that it can be done.
By all accounts, the Eagles took every imaginable precaution to make the NovaCare Complex incredibly safe, and still Pederson contracted the virus. If he got it inside the building, then obviously even the most strongest safety precautions weren’t enough. And if he got it outside the building, that just shows how risky it is to try to play team sports during a pandemic without a bubble.
We’re still about five weeks from opening day, so presumably Pederson, Lane Johnson, Press Taylor and Nate Gerry will all be back with the team long before that. Of that group, Johnson is the only one we know has tested positive.
You would hope Matt Stafford and Gardner Minshew, the two starting QBs who’ve landed on the COVID list, would be back by then.
But other head coaches and other starting quarterbacks and other star players are going to test positive. And they’re going to miss games. And with positive tests and opt-outs and practice squad replacements it’s very possible that some NFL teams aren’t going to resemble what we thought they would be a few months ago.
If the season started today, who would the Eagles’ right tackle be? I have no idea. Andre Dillard after last year’s Seattle disaster? Matt Pryor? Prince Tega Wanogho?
A lot of teams are going to face those sorts of questions if there’s a football season. That’s the reality. It’s inevitable.
Here’s what I don’t get.
Even if teams keep positive tests down for now with social distancing, masks in the building, Zoom meetings and multiple locker rooms, what happens on Aug. 17?
You can have as many socially distant walkthroughs as you want. But at some point you have to prepare for a football season.
And that means contact. Lots of it.
What happens when the Eagles start practicing for real on Aug. 17 with full pads and live periods and hitting and blocking and tackling?
You can’t social distance when you’re in pads running goal-line and short yardage. You basically have 22 guys piling on top of each other play after play.
Pederson said he expects more live scrimmages at practice this summer to make up for the absence of preseason games.
How can you safely run full-speed, full-contract scrimmages with players who may have contracted the virus but haven’t yet tested positive?
And then multiply that once games start and there are 75 plays a game - times 16 games a week? With full contact? Without a bubble? And without instant testing results?
Can this work?
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred threatened to shut down MLB a week into the season because of all the positive tests.
The NFL faces the same challenges as MLB with larger rosters and infinitely more contact.
We’ll have a month between the start of live practice on Aug. 18 and opening day on Sept. 13.
If the positive tests are few and far between two weeks into padded practices, then it’s full speed ahead, let’s try to have an NFL season.
If this thing spirals out of control by late August, then it’s time to pull the plug.
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