How Washington is handling COVID crisis with Eagles looming


Ron Rivera said it’s business as usual.

Then he laughed.

Because it’s anything but.

Four days before a crucial NFC East showdown with the Eagles, Rivera’s Washington Football Team has 18 players in COVID protocol, including seven defensive linemen.

Washington could get some of them back in time for the Eagles’ game at the Linc Sunday. Players who are vaccinated can be activated off the COVID-19 Reserve list after they test negative 24 hours apart. Players who aren’t vaccinated are out for 10 days minimum.

All this on top of their best defensive player, Chase Young, out for the year with a torn ACL, their starting quarterback, Taylor Heinicke, dealing with a knee injury, and their only good receiver, Terry McLaurin, in concussion protocol.

“With all the uncertainty, we have to look at guys we have to elevate (from the practice squad) and then slot guys into (new) positions and work them,” Rivera said Wednesday in a conference call with Eagles writers. 

“Other than that, we’re changing nothing. We’re meeting by Zoom – that’s part of the enhanced protocols, and that’s unfortunate - but that’s the biggest difference. Move a few guys around, elevate a few guys. Other than that? Business as usual.”

Rivera said he suspects that the rapid spread within the Washington Football Team’s facility is due to the new Omicron variant.

“From what we’ve surmised, as quickly as it’s spread, it could be the new variant, but I’m just guessing,” he said. “We won’t know that for a while, but as quickly as it spread, it would make sense.”


How did a third of his roster contract the virus at the same time?

Rivera said it may have been on the flight back to Washington after a win over the Raiders in Las Vegas on Dec. 5.

“We were all in a confined space for several hours, so that’s a possibility,” he said.

Washington’s first positive test – edge rusher Montez Sweat – came three days after the Raiders game, with four others testing positive before the loss to the Cowboys in Landover this past Sunday.

Washington had six more positive tests Monday and Tuesday and seven more on Wednesday.

Among the significant players who are currently sidelined are defensive starters Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat and Kendall Fuller, starting offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas and backup quarterback Kyle Allen.

If Heinicke and Allen are both unavailable, Washington would presumably use practice squad quarterback Kyle Shurmur, whose father Pat was on Andy Reid’s Eagles staff with Rivera.

The NFL allows teams to elevate an unlimited number of practice squad players to replace those on the 53-man roster who test positive, but Washington has more players on the COVID list than on the practice squad.

“Hey, this is the reality, these are the circumstances, we still have to show up and play,” Rivera said. “The important thing is our preparation in terms of getting ready to play the game.”

Rivera said he hasn’t heard anything from the league about possibly postponing the Eagles game. Both teams are 6-7 after slow starts. The Eagles have won four of their last six, Washington four of its last five.

Washington also has 13 players on Injured Reserve.  

“We’re watching what’s happening with Cleveland,” he said. “They’re in a tough spot as well, and we’ll see what happens.”

Rivera said several of the players who’ve tested positive have no symptoms. But they’re still not allowed to play.

“Several of them are tremendously frustrated,” Rivera said. “They’re telling me, ‘Coach, I’ve got no issues.’ They don’t feel anything. That’s the really hard part.”

Rivera spent the 1999 through 2003 seasons coaching linebackers Reid’s staff, and he said one disappointing aspect of the team’s enhanced protocols is that he won’t be able to visit with old friends this weekend.

“Stephanie and I spent five good years on Andy’s original staff, and we still have a lot of very close friends in the area,” he said. “We lived in Cherry Hill, our son went to Cherry Hill East, and we loved it there. We really enjoyed our time in Philadelphia, but we had to change our travel plans and that’s a big bummer.”

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