There were two reports that surfaced over the course of the 2020 season stating that a team would be stripped of a draft pick due to Covid-19 protocol violations. As it stands, there will be two teams who have forfeited picks in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft. But it won’t be either of the teams reported to have lost one due to Covid-19 violations.
The New England Patriots forfeited a third-round draft pick stemming from their conduct involving an incident in which they were caught taping a Cincinnati Bengals game illegally. The Minnesota Vikings, it was recently announced, would lose a seventh-round pick due to salary cap violations.
The New Orleans Saints and the Las Vegas Raiders, however, will not lose their draft picks that were reported to have been part of the discipline that they received due to repeated violations of the Covid-19 protocols, as confirmed by a league spokesman.
“They are not forfeiting them”, Brian McCarthy told Pro Football Talk yesterday. “Neither team will lose those picks”. Presumably, both teams appealed their discipline and were able to get back their draft pick, though other penalties such as fines likely remain in place.
This is not unimportant information, because the Pittsburgh Steelers themselves weren’t necessarily out of the woods. They, too, were a team who experienced multiple Covid-19 protocol violations, the first being from earlier in the season when multiple coaches were seen not wearing masks at times during a game, including head coach Mike Tomlin.
At the end of the regular season, when the Steelers secured the AFC North, a number of players participated in a locker room dance, not incredibly dissimilar to that the Saints had been disciplined for—and which initially drew the loss of a draft picks, according to contemporaneous reports.
Many Steelers fans thus feared that the team might lose a draft pick from this, but no discipline had ever been announced stemming from that incident. It had been taking months for the league to investigate such incidents and for news to come out about it, so that didn’t necessarily mean the team was out of the woods.
Theoretically, it is still possible that the league could hand down some sort of punishment for that incident, though considering how long ago it was at this point—about two and a half months—one would hope that they are out of the woods. Of course, they will now be fined because I just reminded the league about this, so everything is clearly my fault.
Update: A later statement from McCarthy explains that the Saints will indeed be stripped of a draft pick, but in 2022. The Raiders were fined $800,000, and will not lose a draft pick. The status remains, however, that there has never been any news over whether or not the NFL would even look into the Steelers’ locker room celebration. Hopefully they won’t.