The NFL and NFLPA are in the final stage of their probe into the Titans' handling of their COVID-19 outbreak, which reached 23 players and staff members in all, with the disciplinary phase expected to begin by the end of the month.
The in-person investigation has concluded, with both groups having personnel in Nashville during the outbreak while the team facility was closed for the better part of 16 days with positive results continuing to come in. The final results of genetic tracing of the virus from the labs have yet to come back, and when it does the experts from the NFL and NFLPA will compare it to what the contract tracing revealed before drawing up final conclusions and suggestions about how to prevent something like this from occurring again in the future.
"The priority remains determining exactly what happened here, and what can be prevented in the future and how we can all learn from it," one league source said. "That is the sole focus for now and then the disciplinary review would begin."
Numerous league sources who have been in contact with commissioner Roger Goodell, including some at the ownership level, have had a strong sense that serious consequences loom for the Titans based upon what was already known of the situation. And the rest of the league is watching very closely to see what punishment is looming after exhausting so much time and energy in consistent interactions with the league office on a weekly basis regarding COVID-19 dating back to the spring.
Goodell told CBS color commentator Jay Feely ahead of Tuesday night's national broadcast of the Bills-Titans game that the Titans had not "willingly" violated COVID protocols, and NFLPA sources concurred that to this point there were not overt indications of intent ("It's not like the coaches were telling players to not wear their mask and to go work out together at a park," as one NFLPA source put it). And, as one NFL source put it, "You could make the case that not being able to go to work as normal for over two weeks was a punishment in itself."
But regardless, the NFL has already shared materials and evidence of the Titans not complying with numerous collectively-bargained COVID edicts with other teams in conference calls and in less overt ways, and there is an expectation around the league that discipline is in order.
"All of a sudden the Titans win a game on national television and now it's like all is forgiven?" asked one general manager. "If that's what they do, it's total (BS). They weren't following the rules. They had an outbreak that kept growing and it forced how many other teams to move around and adjust? We weren't even affected by it and I'm pissed off. I couldn't believe what I heard Tuesday night and neither could my owner."
"If they let this slide, after all the memos and all the calls and all the notices, then it's all just been a waste of time," another GM said. "If they don't come down hard on this, then they better stop sending us new notices every week. If they don't get crushed then they'd better not come after anyone else."
The NFL has made it clear repeatedly to teams in various forums that non-compliance could result in the loss of high draft picks, suspensions, fines and even forfeiture of games.