The Cleveland Browns are already facing questions at the quarterback position entering a crucial AFC North battle with the Pittsburgh Steelers. While starter Baker Mayfield is apparently "trending in the right direction" while recovering from an injury to his ribs, he's also been limited at practice this week, suggesting there's at least a slight chance backup Case Keenum could be forced to start against the Steelers and their feared pass rush. Should Mayfield miss Sunday's Week 6 showdown, however, the Browns could be in an even more dire situation thanks to the NFL's new COVID-19 protocols.
Earlier Friday, the Browns seemingly added QB insurance by announcing the addition of former New York Giants backup Kyle Lauletta to their practice squad. A free agent after an offseason stint with the Atlanta Falcons, the 25-year-old Lauletta theoretically would've been a candidate to be called up from the scout team as an emergency backup for the Steelers game. Because new COVID protocols dictate that player acquisitions require six days of COVID testing before entering team facilities, however, Lauletta cannot be activated for Sunday's matchup, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.
"Cleveland lost (practice-squad backup) Garrett Gilbert to Dallas on Monday and quickly got Lauletta, who took his first COVID test Tuesday," Pelissero reported Friday. "So Saturday is Day 5 ... If the game were at home, Lauletta could've done his sixth test ... and dressed Sunday if the (point-of-contact test) were negative. But it's on the road, so he can't ... So if Baker Mayfield can't go, they'll have one QB: Case Keenum."
Teams rarely activate more than two QBs on game day, so if Mayfield is, in fact, good to go against Pittsburgh, the Browns won't necessarily be in unique trouble. Thing is, even if Mayfield starts Sunday's game, there's reason to believe Cleveland will be cautious with its starting QB because of the nature of his injury. And any move to Keenum would mean the Browns have exhausted their QB depth chart for Sunday's matchup, potentially requiring the team to prepare emergency reserves elsewhere on the roster.
"This won't be the last time this issue pops up going forward," Pelissero predicted. "One more challenge for teams to navigate."