2020 has been a wild year. Our new normal is going about our daily lives under the shroud of COVID-19. Face coverings are now part of our "leaving home" ritual - phone, keys, wallet, mask. Grocery store trips take twice as long with half of the registers closed. I can't even remember the last time I dapped someone up in the workplace. It is all part of protecting ourselves by social distancing. The NFL has had to step up to the plate as well. Under tight surveillance, NFL teams have enforced daily testing, nose swabs, contact tracing, and mask requirements whenever personnel are in the team facility and on the sidelines. Sure, cases have been popping up, most recently a mass spread amongst the Baltimore Ravens organization, but that was to be expected with no plan or feasibility for a bubble. The latest team, or position group, to be affected is the QB room of the Denver Broncos. Oh boy.
Saturday, November 28th, 2020. Football news was swirling with the firing of Lions Head Coach Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn. That afternoon, I was planning out key points for a blog to cover the not-so-surprising move. As I sat down in my room, brainstorming ideas while playing Madden, my phone started to buzz like crazy. I had gotten five twitter notifications in the span of a couple of seconds. I knew something big had happened before I even saw the tweets. I turned on my phone, opened the pop-ups, and to my astonishment, found out that all four of the Denver Broncos QBs would be ineligible for their game the next day. How could this happen?
Let's take it back to earlier in the week; Tuesday, November 24th, 2020. On a normal off day across the NFL, Drew Lock, the starting QB for the Broncos, called the other three QBs, Blake Bortles, Brett Rypien, and Jeff Driskel, in to go over some film from the previous game and film of their upcoming opponent, the New Orleans Saints. All of them had been tested that day and received negative results. The group of four decided to request a meeting room in the facility, rather than meet at one of the player's houses, in order to minimize any potential of further spreading. It is unclear how long the group was in the room for, but for anyone who has watched game film from the previous week, and then watched your opponents film for the following week, you know it had to have been for several hours. Two days later, Jeff Driskel, one of the backups, tested positive for COVID-19. Through contact tracing, or up front honesty by one of the three other QBs, it was revealed that none of them wore masks during this time. As a result, they were considered "high-risk close contacts" and were deemed ineligible for the game on Sunday.
This left the Broncos with a couple of options. There was no time to pick up a QB from free agency, as the game was within 24 hours of the Broncos QBs losing eligibility. The only two other players in the organization who had significant time playing QB in their football careers were Royce Freeman, the 3rd string running back, and Kendall Hinton, a practice squad special teams player who was working for a sales firm less than a month ago. The Broncos opted to go with Hinton, who had zero practice time at QB that week. The result? Kendall finished 1 for 9, 13 yards passing, 0 TDs, 2 INTs, and a QBR of 0. He also ran the ball twice for 7 yards, and the Broncos would fall 31-3. That's an outstanding performance in my book. To go out on the field, with no practice time whatsoever, and put your body on the line to give your team a chance to win, is a feat that all of us would die to do just for one game in the NFL.
Photo: USA Today
There was some fallout from this. The Broncos QB room was ripped apart by analysts and fans. One analyst in particular is Dan Orlovsky, a former NFL QB. In a rant, Dan said "shame on you" to the QBs for not being more responsible. He mentioned how, as a backup, his playing opportunity was "based on luck" and that backups wait for that opportunity. The Broncos QBs had an opportunity to do that, but were irresponsible and did not have that chance. I think it's a moot point, as Drew Lock, the starter, wasn't diagnosed with COVID. So, if the QBs wore masks in that meeting, Drew Lock would have most likely played and the backups would still be waiting their turn. Drew Lock owned up to his mistakes and acknowledged that he let the fans and organization down. He let his guard down, regardless of the fact that he was with his position group, who he spends most of his time with, and that was irresponsible of him.
This will be a wake up call for the rest of the NFL to take better care of themselves and the organization they are a part of. To be prepared, the Carolina Panthers signed Taylor Heinicke to their practice squad with the intent of making him their "quarantine QB". I would expect more teams across the league to take this same precaution. In addition, after both instances with the Broncos and Ravens, Roger Goodell came out with a statement that "The NFL will not postpone games for completive reasons. The Broncos game was played because the league was confident there was no threat of the virus spreading." He also added that he doesn't see the NFL doing a bubble in the sense that a lot of media focuses on it. It is hard to determine what he meant by the second statement. Is it a shot to the media? Is it a call to draw as little attention as possible to keep personnel safe, or to keep everyone outside of the NFL in the dark as to how their protocols are monitored? All of this is speculation, of course, but all in all, the bubble would not be a realistic goal for the NFL, especially since at least twelve games are played a week. Yes, playoffs have one to three games a day, but using a bubble for football would be difficult to pull off.
Photo: Associated Press
Wear a mask. Be smart. Even if it's with someone you're comfortable with, wear a mask. Do it for your family, your friends, your coworkers, and the strangers you pass by in the grocery store. These are trying times; do your part in helping us get back to normal and the rest will take care of itself. Stay safe and stay healthy.