In what should serve as an important reminder about what the game is really about and what is at stake, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross was placed on the reserve/Covid-19 list yesterday. He was placed on the list because he is opting to temporarily leave the team after his child and the child’s mother tested positive for Covid-19, and he will be looking after their care.
He was not placed on the list because he was near his family. In fact, his son is in California. He, of course, has been in Ohio with the Bengals since training camp opened. Already, Ross was not at practice with the team on Tuesday. Needless to say, there is no timetable for his return while he looks after the wellbeing of his child.
The ninth-overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Ross has been slow to live up to his draft stock, and missing 24 games over the course of his first three seasons—an average of eight games per year, including eight in 2019—hasn’t helped.
Last season, he caught 28 passes for 506 yards, averaging 18.1 yards per reception and beginning to show the sort of weapon that he was brought in to be, catching three touchdowns. The year before that, in 13 games, he caught 21 passes for only 21 yards, but seven went for touchdowns. Limited to just three games as a rookie in 2017, he did not even catch a pass. But he had one end-around for 12 yards, at which point he fumbled.
His absence at this time is significant as the Bengals look to get their rookie first-overall draft pick, Joe Burrow, up and running under center. Ross would be one of the team’s three primary wide receivers, in addition to A.J. Green, returning after missing the entirety of the 2019 season due to injury, and Tyler Boyd, who has developed into one of the more underrated slot receivers in the NFL.
Auden Tate and Alex Erickson actually finished second and third, respectively, in receiving yards for Cincinnati last season, and both return this year. In addition to these two lesser-known receiving options, the Bengals drafted Tee Higgins with their second choice, 33rd overall at the top of the second round.
Ross’ case is important to keep in mind, because chances are good that he will not be the only player forced to make a similar decision this season, and when the stakes are much higher. Everybody in the NFL has a family, whether it’s significant others and children or parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and many of them will be in their care.
The United States has been averaging over 50,000 new Covid-19 cases per day for over a month. Many NFL teams play in hotspots like Florida and Texas. It’s probably an inevitability that other players will be forced to make the decision that Ross has been faced with—staying with your team, or leaving to care for your family. Even if your family is with you, you cannot be around a family member with the coronavirus and around the team. The choice has to be made.