The NFL has a COVID-19 crisis on its hands. The league and the NFLPA need to act accordingly.
As reported last week, there was already a mounting groundswell of support among teams to move back last year's protocols and test everyone who enters an NFL facility on a daily basis, and to strongly consider going to more intensive measures as well, including mandatory mask wearing and moving more meetings and work interactions to a virtual format.
These are desperate times. Teams could feel cracks in the system growing. The virus was starting to derail game and practice preparations, a new variant had formed, and more people were gathering in numbers indoors with the holiday season upon us. Anecdotally, there was a strong sense among those who oversee rosters on a daily basis that things were about to get bad again, and there was a prevailing notion among them that the owners of these teams and the league office and the union had best ramp up the protocols.
And that was before 75 players ended up placed on the COVID list on Monday and Tuesday alone. That was before the league's decision makers had gathered in Dallas for league meetings. That was before several more teams found themselves scurrying to find free agents to fill out their rosters or practice squads with entire position groups being compromised by COVID, again. And, many of them fear that the situation in the final weeks could threaten to derail games, and seasons, far more even than this virus did a year ago, because of the lack of more stringent protocols in place.
Several execs with NFL teams said they were informed that roughly five percent of NFL players had received a booster shot, along with about 33 percent of all Tier 1 and Tier 2 employees. I reached out to several NFL spokespeople about that Tuesday; no one denied those numbers, no official statement was provided. I was told that perhaps the NFL would address this today.
Bottom line, competitive balance has been, and will be impacted by COVID unless some changes are made ASAP. Nothing is foolproof, but clearly there are major holes in a system in which vaccinated players are only being tested once a week, and the only teams that are in intensive protocols are already dealing with outbreaks. Not particularly proactive.
"What the (expletive) are we doing here?" one NFL personnel exec said. "Where is the common sense? What do we have to lose by testing everyone every day and going to enhanced protocols? What is the drawback? Money? I don't get it."
Another exec whose team is dealing with a current COVID situation said: "It will probably get worse for us before it gets better, if it gets better. It's costing games in the NBA and NHL. People are getting together. You don't see people wearing masks indoors like they should. I'm on the road scouting and people aren't wearing masks at airports. We need to do something here before it's too late. This is the biggest issue in the league right now."
Let's hope some immediate progress is made at these meetings. Because another 20-30 players might be shifted to this list tomorrow. And the NFL is about to start playing more short week games than all season long with the heavy Saturday schedule. And if they aren't panicking a little bit on Park Avenue about the way this is trending, then they clearly aren't listening to the execs and coaches who actually run these teams.
Analyzing Harbaugh's analytics
Plenty of attention went to John Harbaugh's decision to go for two after a touchdown cut the Ravens' deficit to the Browns on Sunday to 24-15. It was a case of analytics run wild, they surmised. Burn the computers, they cried!
Okay, so no computers were harmed. And no one went quite that far. But some of the excoriation probably went too far. As Harbaugh would explain it, his team was going to need a two-point conversion at some point to cut the lead, he'd prefer to push the issue on the first score, and then have his offense and defense know exactly what they will need to produce in order to try to tie or win this game in the final nine minutes.
You can't argue with the math. It's not really analytics. It's a simple equation that would in fact require a two-point conversion. Period.
Now, when Harbaugh opined at the beginning of his explanation that it was really "no decision," that raised my dinosaur dander a bit. Because it should be an individual decision in any individual scenario given game flow, how the Browns and Ravens were performing, injuries, momentum (for lack of a better work), and the psychology of the game. And one could argue, given the uber-conservative nature of Cleveland's offense, and with Baker Mayfield seeming afraid to make a mistake, and looking shaky, well, maybe let automatic Justin Tucker kick that extra point and let the Browns, who seemed to be in choke mode, know that this was now a one-score game. And I get that.
I would've kicked it. But I don't think you can fault the logic of what Harbaugh did or try to say it's a flawed mindset. And, for what it's worth, among Ravens fans who have become acclimated to (or, in some cases, resigned to) the way Harbaugh operates, agree with the coach (and trust me plenty of people in Baltimore are skeptics). We put a poll up on the twitter feed for my talk show in Baltimore (@IA1057The Fan) and of the 1,222 respondents, 57 percent agreed with the coach.
The times are a changing. And I get it.
For Urban Meyer, it's crunch time
The next two weeks are going to be big for Urban Meyer.
Can his woeful outfit beat the Texans and/or Jets? Could they manage to get swept by a Houston operation that is barely conceding its bloodlust for the first-overall pick above all else? Might that be enough to get owner Shad Khan to admit he has made a $60M mistake?
Plenty of smart people around this league believe it just might be. The team is sending out season ticket renewals. Fan apathy has been replaced by fan anger. Meyer is a source of scorn within that organization and within the fanbase. Attendance is ugly. This wasn't a win at the box office or in the standings or in terms of optics or PR.
Is Sunday a must win game? Or, even with a victory over the lowly Texans, would a loss to the Jets be enough for Meyer to get a jumpstart on a coaching search? Depends who you ask. But Khan and his executive team are gathered in Jacksonville, this situation is quite dire, and it would be far more difficult for a forward-thinking leader to make a case to keep Meyer around then it would to simply recognize and acknowledge the plight of these players and make a change.