This should come as no surprise to anybody at this point—and it really was never up for debate—but the league made it clear this week that under no circumstances would postseason games be rescheduled for competitive reasons, which was, of course, the same approach that they took during the regular season.
It’s why the Denver Broncos played without a quarterback, why the Cleveland Browns played without basically any wide receiver they’d worked with much before, and why a number of teams played without numerous key starters, including quarterbacks. If a player is on the Covid-19 List and his case doesn’t indicate an ongoing spread in the locker room, the game isn’t being moved.
“I think it’s a very slippery slope to either read into or to start making decisions motivated by competitive balance”, said DeMaurice Smith on Tuesday, the executive director of the NFLPA. “I think once you start making those decisions, it becomes very difficult to manage and also very difficult in order to determine when to stop”.
The Browns just lost a game this past week that could potentially have a ripple effect of knocking them out of the playoffs should they also lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, and they had to play that game without any wide receiver they’d worked with before.
“It’s definitely frustrating. Guys want to be out there, and that was one of the tougher things this year. Guys are competitors”, said J.C. Tretter, the union president and also the Browns’ starting center. “Guys play through injury, through illness, but this is the year that that’s not possible. You can’t play through COVID. It’s not safe for the guys around you, and the choice is taken away from the player of [if] can you do it”.
Tretter stressed that following the protocols to 100 percent compliance virtually “takes care of it all” in terms of protecting teams from having outbreaks or exposing themselves as a high-risk close contact, though of course it’s never quite that simple.
The Steelers this year have had to play games without some starters due to Covid-19 as well. Most recently, starting inside linebacker Vince Williams missed two games while dealing with the virus. James Conner is another player who tested positive and missed multiple games.
With cases rising across the country, it will only be more difficult for NFL players to isolate themselves from the outside world without adopting a bubble environment, which the league has opted not to do, citing counsel from medical experts.
Bottom line, as it has been all season, it will be the responsibility of every member of the organization to be as safe as they possibly can. Only the stakes are at their highest in the single-elimination postseason that is to come.