On Wednesday morning this week, Paul Kuharsky reported that the Tennessee Titans had broken NFL COVID-19 protocols by gathering for player-organized workouts at Montgomery Bell Academy, a private school in Nashville, on Sept. 30, one day after team facilities were closed in the wake of eight positive COVID tests by players and staff.
Titans’ players refuted the report, claiming they were not told they couldn’t gather outside of team facilities until Oct. 1, one day later, per reports by Buck Reising of A to Z Sports Nashville.
Beyond the non-sanctioned player workouts, the Titans are also under investigation for breaching the NFL’s protocols relating to failure to report symptoms or contact with infected persons and failure to properly wear masks in the facility. Rumors came out Wednesday, both from various team executives and NFL league sources, that the Titans were going to be punished pending the NFL’s investigation.
One report from Charles Robinson of Yahoo claimed that a punishment for Tennessee’s violations was “not a matter of if, but when and how severe.” Another report from Pro Football Talk stated that a potentially “historic” punishment could be coming for the Titans. Doug Farrar of SBNation even had the preposterous notion that the NFL should outright expel the Titans from the 2020 season.
Mike Sando of The Athletic published an article Thursday calling it “an open secret” around NFL circles that the Titans did not strictly enforce mask-wearing guidelines in team facilities.
After two more positive tests were confirmed Thursday (one that was re-tested after inconclusive results Wednesday), more calls for the Titans to be punished, either by forfeiture of games, forfeiture of draft picks, or fines, were made on social media and by NFL reporters.
ESPN’s Dan Graziano has had updates throughout the NFL and the NFLPA’s investigation into the Titans situation. He posted a thread on Twitter Thursday morning that summed up the latest information well.
In his thread, Graziano notes that the off-site player workouts on Sept. 30 are “PART of the investigation, but not its sole focus.” He also mentions that the league office is trying to determine how the virus entered the Titans facility in the first place, and how it spread. To the NFL, this is more important than the player workouts.
I assume that’s because the team’s failures to report correctly and wear masks properly is an actual breach of NFL-mandated protocols, not a confusion rooted in a miscommunication like last week’s workout.
That’s what the national media, and national NFL fanbase, is largely missing about this entire catastrophe. The workout conducted by the players is not some big, breaking story in the eyes of the NFL.
Based on how Graziano writes, it sounds like the league more or less understands the position the Titans were put in last Tuesday and Wednesday with uncertainty regarding their Week 4 game, which was still scheduled to be played until Friday of last week.
Not mentioned by national media until recently was the “second” workout reported by Paul Kuharsky Wednesday, which seemed to be a defensive back group getting together later in the day. Tom Pelissero is saying that this second workout (and potentially others) are now also being included in the investigation.
Regarding the Titans’ upcoming Week 5 game with the Buffalo Bills, there seem to be a few options in play. However, forfeiture is not one of those options if the NFL can avoid it. According to Graziano:
“NFL/NFLPA do NOT want to make teams forfeit games. That is a last-resort idea that would only come into play if rescheduling proved impossible and a team proved responsible. Titans-Bills is likely to be rescheduled, even if other games have to move to accommodate.“
What stands out there is the last sentence; the NFL cares more about the games being played than they do about affecting other teams or forcing purported “protocol violators” to forfeit games.
There’s likely many reasons why the NFL doesn’t want to get into the forfeiture territory. It sets a difficult precedent to maintain, and costs the NFL, their network partners, the teams, and all the players the revenue, fees, and paychecks they would receive, respectively, for playing the game, even if the schedule has to change.
Ian Rapoport points out the difficulty of simply sliding the Titans game back to Monday or Tuesday, hoping for a two-day streak with no positive tests on Friday and Saturday or Saturday and Sunday. The Bills are scheduled to play on Thursday night against the Kansas City Chiefs.
One option the NFL is exploring, according to Dianna Russini, would be to move the Bills-Chiefs game to Saturday Oct. 17. Even if the Titans and Bills had to play Tuesday night, the turnaround from Tuesday to Saturday is equivalent to a Sunday-Thursday timeline.
Obviously, there is still a lot to sort out. Here’s a TL;DR summary of what we currently know:
- The Titans-Bills game is likely to be rescheduled for sometime within the “Week 5” range, although the Titans may not have a chance to practice before the game and could be missing as many as 14 players who’ve recently tested positive for COVID-19
- The Titans have not been punished yet by the NFL or NFLPA, nor have they been cleared of any breach of NFL protocols
- The player workouts on Sept. 30, while irresponsible to organize during a global pandemic, are not the sole focus of the NFL’s investigation, as there is clearly a misunderstanding or miscommunication involved. They are also looking at whether the Titans wore masks correctly and followed all reporting and social distancing protocols both in the building and while traveling
We’ll have all the latest updates as we learn more here at Broadway Sports.