The NFL lost minicamp and preseason to the COVID-19 pandemic, along with a traditional training camp and regular season revenue stemming from the absence of full stadiums around the league. What it's doing its best to avoid losing is the season itself, and it's now faced with its first very real reminder of just how thin the razor's edge is they're standing on. The Tennessee Titans reported several positive coronavirus tests that includes both players and coaches, and the number is growing virtually by the day. It's led to the postponement and subsequent rescheduling of their Week 4 battle with the Pittsburgh Steelers -- a move that's also forced a shift in the Baltimore Ravens schedule -- but head coach Mike Vrabel insists there was no violation of COVID-19 protocol.
And with the Titans upcoming Week 5 matchup with the Buffalo Bills now in jeopardy as well, the league has already taken measures to issue blistering memos to all 32 clubs to threaten any COVID-19 protocol violators with massive fines and potential loss of draft picks, only days after issues substantial fines to several head coaches who were either without a mask in Week 1 or wearing one inappropriately to help prevent the spread of the virus.
The Dallas Cowboys have been absent a positive test since July 31, and Mike McCarthy jokingly noted getting one isn't worth the wrecking ball hit to the bank account. Having also been one of only a few teams to have established bubble in training camp -- set up at The Omni Hotel attached to the team's headquarters and practice facility in Frisco, Texas -- by all accounts, the Cowboys are taking the pandemic very seriously.
Owner Jerry Jones wishes everyone else would as well.
"I am really proud of what we're doing as a league, and that's an understatement," Jones told 105.3FM the Fan on Friday. "But what is going to be very, very interesting to see is how we respond when we have an outbreak. That's going to be the big test, and I think we're really -- I think we're going to do well. We got a lot of flexibility. We really spent a lot of time planning for this, and we can get the games, get the games in so to speak, or ultimately in the case of the Titans and the Vikings, we postpone.
"But we'll have that accounted for pretty quick in our schedule. All of those things are ahead of us. I'm more interested in seeing how we respond, how we react, our reaction to outbreaks of any nature, whether they be smaller groups or even a larger group. That will be a good exercise for us. There is no doubt in my mind that we'll be able to handle it."
But while Jones remains optimistic about the season as a whole, he is also a rabid proponent of any earth-shattering punishment the league might levy against violators of COVID-19 protocol -- something that could potentially apply to the Titans soon. The NFL has dispatched investigators to Nashville to not only oversee the deep cleaning of the team's entire facility and then some, but to also probe any possible violations that might've caused the spread, when there hasn't been one elsewhere in the league. The Vikings, for example, played the Titans in Week 3 and have experienced no positive tests at all this week.
This hints heavily at something having gone awry in Tennessee, and the league is looking into it. If it's found they broke protocol, or if anyone does going forward, Jones wants the hammer dropped with the passion of Thor.
"We want to put a lot of discipline in these protocols," said Jones. "In this particular case, when I say the word 'punish,' I have a little problem with that over catching something that you makes you ill -- just the nature of it. On the other hand, to emphasize bright lines, to emphasize discipline, to emphasize consciousness, having your eye on the ball, those kinds of things and what it means for everybody else as well, then this does call for big time discipline. You can't let somebody go up and pull the red cord when they're flying on an airplane. You can't just let somebody open the emergency door.
"There's got to be some heavy penalties for that because that involves the lives of a lot of people. We've got to have discipline. I understand the discipline. It's there for a reason, and forgetting is not good enough, not remembering, or, 'if this for that.' It's not good enough.
"Are we all perfect in how we're adhering to this? Of course we're not, but trying, being on everybody's mind. This is going to make a difference, and I think it's going to make a difference in everybody in the NFL -- the discipline."
By all accounts, the league has zero issues altering both the present and future of entire franchises if they're found to have put the entire league at risk, along with the indirect impact to families of players and coaches. And then there's the cosmic levels of revenue at stake if the season is paused or cancelled, making for a cauldron of reasons for unprecedented punishment.
So while everyone involved would prefer each and every person in the league simply did what they're supposed to do to keep COVID-19 boxed out of the NFL, should anyone begin taking the situation lightly, Jones is all for the consequences that would follow -- no matter how devastating they may be.