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NFL Hastily Reorganizes Week 15

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Amid an unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak among vaccinated players and staff, the NFL and NFLPA has decided to postpone three Week 15 games, making a decision just as the Raiders were scheduled to board their team bus to the airport for their Saturday game.

Raiders-Browns, originally scheduled for Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET, was moved to Monday at 5 p.m. Washington Football Team–Eagles, originally scheduled for Sunday, was moved to Tuesday at 7 p.m. That game will share the time slot with the now-rescheduled Seahawks-Rams. Got all that?

The Browns have 22 players on the COVID-19 reserve list, including quarterback Baker Mayfield and backup Case Keenum. The Rams have 25 players on the list, and the Washington Football Team has 23 players, including QBs Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen. WFT was slated to start Garrett Gilbert, who has started one NFL game since he was drafted in 2014.

On Thursday, the NFL and NFLPA revised the return-to-play protocol for vaccinated players, acknowledging that as the “scientific evidence” evolves, so should the protocol. Instead of the requirement of two negative tests in a 24-hour period, or to miss at least 10 days, there are now three ways for vaccinated players to get back on the field. If a player is asymptomatic, they can start the return-to-play protocol 24 hours after their positive test if they:

  • Have two PCR tests that are either negative or produce a CT (cycle threshold) value of at least 35
  • Have one PCR test that is either negative or produces a CT value of at least 35 and have one negative Mesa test (Mesa test must be taken within 24 hours of the PCR test)
  • Have two negative Mesa tests

Cycle threshold measures the viral load, or how contagious an individual is. Many vaccinated players who tested positive weren’t testing out before the 10 days were up, so taking CT into account would be a more accurate way to determine if a player is still contagious.

“It’s not about loosening our standards,” NFL chief medical officer Allen Sills told ESPN. “If anything, we’re just bringing a higher degree of precision in measuring ourselves against a more precise ruler.”

However, many players are mad about the schedule changes and taking them personally. Raiders linebacker K.J. Wright fumed because his team, miraculously, has zero players on the COVID list, while their opponents have 22. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in September that the Raiders are 100 percent vaccinated.

Eagles safety Darius Slay is mad because he thought the team with the outbreak was supposed to forfeit the game, and in his case, that opponent with the outbreak is a division rival. (He’s wrong about that: The original memo sent to teams in June said that forfeits would occur only if the league could not reschedule the game within the 18-week season, and only due to an outbreak among unvaccinated players.) He’s also mad because the Eagles, a team still in the playoff hunt, now have to play Tuesday and then again the following Sunday against a rested Giants team.

It makes sense that players are pissed, since the NFL’s and NFLPA’s protocol was designed to pressure them into getting vaccinated, and now, the vaccinated players are testing positive anyway. A handful are venting frustration and conspiracy theories on social media. Mayfield urged the NFL to postpone Cleveland’s game, while also criticizing the confusing changes in protocol earlier this week.

It’s worth noting that if all these angry players got the forfeit they wanted, they also would not be getting a paycheck this week.