Once again, I have bad news to pass along. The Titans had yet another player test positive for COVID this morning in addition to a re-test that confirmed the second positive from yesterday’s reports.
I find it pretty hard to believe that the Bills game happens at this point. New positive tests continue to roll in and the league has been waiting consecutive clean days before allowing the Titans to return to their facility. At this point, even if today’s tests come back with no new positives tomorrow morning, Tennessee likely wouldn’t be allowed in their facility prior to Saturday at the earliest, giving them no opportunity to practice prior to playing the Bills.
The league cannot simply push the game back to Monday as they did with Patriots-Chiefs last week because Buffalo plays the Chiefs on Thursday Night Football next week. That leaves the league with three options.
- Push forward and try to play the game as scheduled if test results come back all-negative on Friday and Saturday.
- Reschedule Titans-Bills for Week 18 and push the start of the playoffs back a week.
- Force the Titans to become the first team in the league’s 100-year history to forfeit a game.
One thing to consider with Option 3… that route would be wildly unfair to the Steelers, who had their bye week re-arranged and still have to play the Titans in Week 7. Why should the Bills — a team that could be competing with the Steelers for playoff spots or seeding — get a free W when the Steelers get inconvienced.
It’s possible that the league could retroactively give the Titans two forfeits, dropping them to 3-2 and picking the schedule back up as originally set with Houston in Week 6 and a bye in Week 7, but that would cost the NFL money and they don’t like that.
Who is on the reserve/COVID list?
The Titans currently have 12 total players on the reserve/COVID list:
- LS Beau Brinkley
- OLB Kamalei Correa
- CB Kristian Fulton
- WR Adam Humphries
- WR Corey Davis
- FB Khari Blasingame
- DL DaQuan Jones
- DL Jeffery Simmons
- OL Isaiah Wilson
- WR Cameron Batson*
- TE Tommy Hudson*
- CB Greg Mabin*
We will be adding two more names to that list this afternoon as the COVID cycle continues.
The Titans also have had 10 team personnel members test positive. Based on reports, we know that there are coaches included in that number beyond the one name we know out of this group: outside linebackers coach and defensive playcaller Shane Bowen.
We should note that Isaiah Wilson has officially been on the COVID list for a month now and is not included in this outbreak. It was sounding like he was nearing a return prior to the facility getting shut down last week.
When can infected players return?
I wrote at length about the return to play protocols that were agreed upon by the NFL and NFL Players Association last week and you can read that here. Essentially, the big variable is the presence of symptoms. Some people who get COVID-19 never demonstrate any actual symptoms — one of the reasons the virus has been so hard to track — and the players that fall into that category can return to practice once they pass three hurdles:
- At least five days have passed since initial positive test.
- Player produces two consecutive negative tests at least 24 hours apart.
- Receive clearance from the team’s head physician.
The players that fall into the asymptomatic category would all have a chance to play against the Bills — even fullback Khari Blasingame, who tested positive on Saturday (reported on Sunday) — if they can clear the virus from their system. Of course, five days is the minimum so do not assume that asymptomatic means an automatic five-day return.
Players that do show symptoms have a longer road to return. Those players must clear all of the following criteria to return to the facilities:
- At least ten days have passed since symptoms appeared.
- At least 72 hours have passed since player last experience symptoms.
- Approval from team’s head physician.
And after returning to the facilities, players who exhibit symptoms must then pass through additional cardiac screening and a minimum three-day progressive exercise protocol before getting cleared to participate in a game.
That means that players with symptomatic cases will require at least 13 days to pass from the time they initially begin showing symptoms and their first game back. In some cases, symptoms do not show up until after a positive test so it’s entirely possible that we see players miss up to three or four weeks of action depending on timing of the positive test and when symptoms appear.
We do not know how many of the 11 recent cases are symptomatic versus asymptomatic and we likely will not know until guys start getting activated from the reserve/COVID list. We could see a few guys get added back onto the roster in time to play against Buffalo, but there is also a pretty decent chance that the Titans are without all 11. Mike Vrabel has said that the team is not expecting to have any of them on Sunday.