Two times might be a coincidence, three times a trend.
Four cases of running reckless with the NFL’s COVID-19 mitigation plan?
There’s the hammer, waiting to be dropped.
The Las Vegas Raiders are under review for violating conditions of the league’s pandemic protocols, and it is not pretty.
The positive test that resulted in right tackle Trent Brown’s placement on the COVID-19 reserve list this week is compounded by video evidence that revealed violations of “intensive protocol” measures during practices that included several players not wearing masks or face shields and not adhering to social distancing on the sidelines, a league official with knowledge of the probe told USA TODAY Sports under the condition of anonymity. The person did not want to be identified because the investigation is active.
“It is this kind of non-compliance that puts the season in jeopardy,” the person said.
The review, conducted by the NFL and NFL Players Association, also turned up evidence that Brown removed the electronic contact tracing device that players and staff members are required to wear as a tool for mitigating spread.
Unlike the Tennessee Titans, who have not been disciplined — but still could face a fine — after an outbreak resulted in at least 24 players and staff members testing positive for COVID-19, the Raiders are seemingly on the verge of drawing NFL punishment that could take into account other violations. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell concluded that the Titans case was “a teaching moment.” That might not be the final analysis with the Raiders.
They are surely living up to their reputation as renegades. Consider:
• Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who said he contracted COVID-19 before training camp, was among five NFL coaches fined $100,000 after Week 2 for not wearing masks properly. The Raiders were also fined $250,000.
• The Raiders were fined $50,000 for allowing a non-credentialed team employee into the locker room at Allegiant Stadium following the Week 2 victory against the New Orleans Saints.
• Raiders tight end Darren Waller was fined $30,000 and nine teammates, including quarterback Derek Carr and tight end Jason Witten, were fined $15,000 each for not wearing masks during a charity event in Henderson, Nevada, that benefited Waller’s foundation.
Now there’s another matter that raises questions about whether the team’s culture is at fault for the cases that have already resulted in the franchise and individuals drawing fines totaling $565,000 – and likely counting – while threatening to put the team at a competitive disadvantage for Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Said the league official, “This is self-inflicted.”
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Brown’s apparent non-compliance regarding the electronic device and the use of video evidence in the review was first reported by the NFL Network, then later confirmed by USA TODAY Sports. The collection of video surveillance from security cameras at NFL team headquarters is now standard for COVID-19 reviews, added to league policy after the Titans’ outbreak.
On Wednesday, the rest of the Raiders’ starting offensive line was sent home for isolation due to close contact with Brown. Also, cornerback Damon Arnette was placed on the COVID-19 list and safety Johnathan Abram sent home for isolation due to contact tracing.
The isolated players would be eligible to play on Sunday provided they don’t test positive during daily testing over a five-day window and pass a point-of-care test on game day. Whether they are notably hurt by missing a week of practices will provide an interesting subplot for Sunday, given that the offensive line will be tested by blitz packages crafted by Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, whose No. 1-ranked unit befuddled Aaron Rodgers last Sunday in helping to hand the Green Bay Packers their first loss of the season.