Dennis Young: The NFL is finally buckling under the coronavirus

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Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock after a 34-27 loss against the Atlanta Falcons on November 8, 2020, in Atlanta. - Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America/TNS

NEW YORK — The Broncos don’t have a quarterback. The 49ers don’t have a place to practice or play. The Ravens are about to pass the Marlins for the worst outbreak in sports. The coronavirus is raging through the NFL just like it’s raging through the rest of the country; it turns out a bunch of half-measures while plowing ahead with your plans won’t stop a pandemic.

Broncos backup quarterback Jeff Driskel tested positive for the virus on Thursday; the NFL said the team could practice on Friday, but they chose not to. The team practiced on Saturday, then yanked quarterbacks Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Blake Bortles in the middle of a workout due to “contact tracing concerns,” according to multiple reports. All three quarterbacks are ineligible to play Sunday because they are “high risk contacts” with Driskel.

That leaves the team with no quarterbacks ahead of Sunday afternoon’s game against the Saints. It’s unclear what changed for the Broncos between the start and end of practice on Saturday, but the NFL is going ahead with the game. Denver can’t just sign anyone off the street, because they need six days to clear the league’s protocols. Practice squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton, who was Wake Forest’s starting QB in 2015, will likely be the Broncos’ first choice at QB, according to an NFL Network report. Hinton missed the entire 2018 college season and then converted to wide receiver in 2019. Running back Royce Freeman might take some snaps too.

It maybe shouldn’t be surprising coming from the Broncos, who only admitted that defensive coordinator Ed Donatell had been hospitalized with the virus after linebacker Alexander Johnson blurted it to the media last week.

Several Broncos players complained that the NFL was forcing them to play while other games had been postponed earlier this season. “Y’all can’t possibly send us into a game without a QB,” tight end Noah Fant tweeted.

The 49ers’ problem is less immediate, but arguably more severe. Santa Clara County rolled out a ban on all contact sports through Dec. 21, and clarified that there would be no exception for the 49ers or Sharks. The Niners are at the Rams this week, but are scheduled to host the Bills and Washington Football Team the next two weeks, which both fall before Dec. 21. They also practice in Santa Clara, an activity that is clearly banned under the order. (Previously, Santa Clara having slightly tougher restrictions than the rest of the country was a jokey annoyance for Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, who had to broadcast a Niners game behind masks.)

At least the Niners can play somewhere. The Ravens announced Saturday afternoon that six more players had been added to their reserve/COVID list for a total of 18 this week. Three offensive linemen and five defensive linemen are on the list; starting quarterback Lamar Jackson and the team’s top two running backs have already tested positive this week. The Ravens-Steelers game, originally scheduled for Thanksgiving, was first moved to Sunday and now to Tuesday.

The Steelers had been complaining about the Thursday game getting moved, calling it “some BS” and “a joke.” On Saturday, Pittsburgh running back James Conner and QB coach Matt Canada tested positive. The team claims that Ben Roethlisberger was not a “close contact” of Canada’s — the standard that knocked out Denver’s quarterbacks — leaving him eligible to play in the Ravens game, whenever it happens.


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