COVID-19

WR Notes: Godwin, Lions, Broncos, Bateman

A bevy of wide receiver news has surfaced Friday, with several key weapons either out or likely to be shelved for Week 2. Here is the latest from the wideout ranks:

  • The Buccaneers have given Chris Godwin a doubtful designation. The contract-year wide receiver displayed concussion-like symptoms Wednesday, after absorbing a late-game hit in last week’s loss to the Saints, and remains in Tampa Bay’s protocol. Godwin has missed just two career games.
  • For a second straight week, the Lions will be without Kenny Golladay. Joining Godwin as a contract-year standout on the verge of a big payday, Golladay will miss another game because of a hamstring malady.
  • The Broncos will have their first- and second-round picks together in game action this week, with K.J. Hamler set to join Jerry Jeudy. Vic Fangio said Hamler will play. The second-rounder sustained a hamstring injury during training camp. Denver may have to wait for any Jeudy-Hamler-Courtland Sutton formations, however, with the Broncos’ No. 1 target remaining questionable with a sprained AC joint.
  • During Week 1, DeVante Parker aggravated a hamstring issue he initially encountered during training camp. The Dolphins‘ No. 1 target is questionable to play Sunday.
  • The Texans worked out Devin Smith this week, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle notes. The Cowboys cut Smith, a former Jets second-round pick, as they trimmed their roster to 53 players. Now 28, Smith has just 15 career receptions since being a coveted prospect in 2015.
  • An interesting situation has emerged at the University of Minnesota, one of several Big Ten teams who saw an impact talent opt out and declare for the 2021 draft. First-round wide receiver prospect Rashod Bateman opted out this summer, but the high-end target is angling to return now. Bateman is back on campus but has signed with an agent, per Yahoo’s Pete Thamel (on Twitter). Due to the unusual circumstances the COVID-19 pandemic has created — particularly in the Big Ten, which announced an October restart this week — the Golden Gophers are attempting to secure a waiver from the NCAA to allow Bateman to play.

Big Ten To Begin Season On October 24

There will be Big Ten football in 2020. A little over a month after the Power 5 conference announced it would postpone its fall slate to the spring, that decision has been reversed.

Per Adam Rittenberg and Heather Dinich of ESPN.com, Big Ten presidents and chancellors unanimously voted to begin play on October 24. Each team will play eight games in eight weeks in advance of the conference championship game on December 19 (the teams not participating in the championship game will play a cross-division game on the same day). Selection Day for the College Football Playoff is scheduled for December 20.

Although we are only one week into the NFL season, the pros have shown that, with daily testing and attention to detail, there is hope that sports can proceed more or less as normal. Indeed, from September 6-12, the league administered 40,479 COVID-19 tests, and there were only two confirmed positive tests among players and five positives among other personnel (Twitter link via Mark Maske of the Washington Post). Given that success, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports that the NFL is likely to continue daily testing all year.

The daily testing capabilities and stronger confidence in the latest medical information were among the reasons given for the Big Ten’s decision to start play next month. A few notable Big Ten players, like Ohio State CB Shaun Wade and Purdue WR Rondale Moore, had already elected to opt out of the season and begin preparations for the 2021 draft, but today’s announcement will generally be a major boon to players with professional aspirations who will now be able to put together more tape for NFL decision-makers well in advance of the draft.

With that, the Pac-12 is now the only Power 5 conference that won’t be playing this year. However, the Pac-12 is undertaking steps to change that, as conference commissioner Larry Scott explained in a statement. If the Pac-12 does end up playing in 2020, the NFL may be able to move forward with its offseason schedule without any major adjustments.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC West Notes: Chiefs, Sutton, Raiders

Clyde Edwards-Helaire will make his NFL debut Thursday night, doing so without the benefit of preseason carries. The Chiefs brought back both Darrel Williams and Darwin Thompson to serve as his backups, but the defending Super Bowl champions considered a somewhat higher-profile RB2 option. A year after the Chiefs scooped up LeSean McCoy following his Bills release, they had interest in Adrian Peterson, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. Peterson, who played under Eric Bieniemy from 2007-10 when the current Chiefs OC was the Vikings’ running backs coach, was interested in a Chiefs deal as well, per Herbie Teope of the Kansas City Star (on Twitter). COVID-19 testing and the team’s first game being on Thursday night nixed a potential partnership, Fowler adds. Peterson signed with the Lions on Sunday.

Ahead of the Chiefs kicking off the 2020 season in less than an hour, here is the latest from the AFC West:

  • The Broncos have already lost their best defensive player for the season, in all likelihood, with Von Miller opting to undergo an ankle surgery that will require a months-long recovery process. They now have their top offensive talent dealing with an injury. Courtland Sutton went down during practice Thursday, suffering what an MRI determined to be an AC joint sprain, Mike Klis of 9News notes. While Sutton will be classified as day-to-day, the third-year wideout’s right shoulder malady has his status in doubt for the Broncos’ Monday-night opener against the Titans.
  • The Chiefs made a few mid-level moves to bolster their depth chart this year, from re-signing wideout Demarcus Robinson and backup quarterback Chad Henne to adding offensive linemen Kelechi Osemele, Daniel Kilgore and Mike Remmers. Kansas City, however, does enter the season with a thin cornerback group thanks to Kendall Fuller‘s Washington return and Bashaud Breeland‘s four-game suspension. GM Brett Veach confirmed the team considered signing a veteran early in camp but saw enough from fourth-round rookie L’Jarius Sneed and young replacement options Rashad Fenton and Antonio Hamilton to stick with the status quo, per Adam Teicher of ESPN.com (on Twitter).
  • Lynn Bowden Jr.‘s Raiders tenure not lasting until Week 1 represented one of this summer’s more surprising developments, but the team viewed the third-round pick as ineffective on the field and a potential red flag off it. A lack of explosiveness contributed to the Raiders shipping Bowden to the Dolphins, according to The Athletic’s Vic Tafur, who adds the team was also concerned about the Kentucky product’s off-field approach — particularly after the team’s move to Las Vegas (subscription required). The Raiders ate Bowden’s $985K signing bonus to send the gadget player to Miami.

Ravens Cut Roster To 53

The Ravens became the latest team to get down to 53, cutting a slew of players on Saturday via a team announcement. With the moves, Baltimore ended a 16-year streak of keeping at least one undrafted rookie on the roster, another sign of the impact COVID-19 and the reduced offseason had on roster decisions.

Here are the 23 guys who were let go:

Barner played a somewhat prominent role on a couple of Eagles teams and won Super Bowl LII with the team. Since leaving Philly he’s bounced between New England, Carolina, and Atlanta. Ehinger started a game at guard for Baltimore last year, but couldn’t crack the roster this time around.

Richards was a full-time starter with the Falcons in 2018, and appeared in nine games with Baltimore last year, scoring a touchdown on a fumble recovery. Townsend was the Raiders’ punter in 2018, and just signed with the Ravens a couple of weeks ago. He probably never had too good a chance of beating out Sam Koch, who has been with the Ravens since 2006. Huntley had a very solid college career at Utah, but wasn’t viewed by too many as a legitimate pro passer.

COVID-19 Latest: Masks, Testing, Pac-12

Thus far, training camps have been more successful than anyone could have anticipated in terms of the NFL’s battle with COVID-19. Though there was a slight hiccup last week due to a series of false positive tests, the true positivity rate across all 32 clubs is less than 1%.

In a recent videoconference with Washington Post reporters and editors, NFL chief medical officer Allen Sills said the league hopes to finalize testing protocols for regular season games within the next couple of days (via Mark Maske of the Washington Post). Those protocols are likely to include rapid-result testing that will be conducted close to game time (if not on the day of the game itself) to provide players with final clearance to participate in games. As of right now, the league and union have agreed to daily testing through September 5. The first regular season game is scheduled for September 10.

Interestingly, Sills said that a player does not need to test positive to be withheld from a game. A player who exhibits COVID-19 symptoms will be held out regardless of his test results. Sills added that it is difficult to say how many positive tests would lead to a team being shut down, though even one positive test could do it if the person who tested positive had a large number of close contacts.

As we inch closer to the Texans-Chiefs contest that is now less than two weeks away, let’s take a look at several more COVID-related items:

  • The NFL will mandate coaches and all sideline staffers wear masks during games, Sills said. Owners must also don masks if they want to enter team locker rooms on game days. The league, however, will not require players to wear masks on the sideline during games — unless a state mandates it — according to NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero (on Twitter).
  • Another big change on the COVID front this week: players will not be allowed in team facilities on Mondays after games, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. While exceptions exist — for teams on short weeks and players rehabbing injuries — this marks a notable adjustment for teams during the regular season.
  • Daily testing will continue across the league for the foreseeable future. The NFL and NFLPA on Saturday reached a second agreement to extend the daily testing period, Pelissero tweets. What was a two-week experiment has turned into a successful, longer-term policy.
  • No NFL players who have contracted COVID-19 have been diagnosed with myocarditis, the heart muscle muscle inflammation that has been associated with the coronavirus and that contributed to the Big Ten’s decision to postpone its fall schedule (Twitter link via John Kryk of the Toronto Sun). All NFL players are tested for myocarditis, so the fact that there have been no cases so far is obviously great news.
  • The Pac-12 has secured an arrangement that will allow the conference to test football players daily. The league has partnered with Quidel, and this agreement will enable test results to emerge within 15 minutes, Nick Bromberg of Yahoo.com notes. The NFL has been testing players daily for nearly a month and has not revealed plans to stop doing so. The Pac-12 joined the Big Ten in postponing its football season, but this testing deal stands to help the conference play its 2020 campaign at some point.

Sam Robinson contributed to this post.

Jaguars Trim Roster To 53

In addition to the cuts of quarterbacks Mike Glennon and Joshua Dobbs, here are the players the Jaguars parted ways with in order to reduce their roster to the 53-player limit.

Waived:

Waived/injured: 

Placed on IR:

Placed on reserve/COVID-19 list:

Placed on reserve/suspended list:

Armstead is one of six players currently on a COVID-19 list around the league. He was expected to lead a Jaguars running back committee, following Leonard Fournette‘s departure. Players can be removed from the COVID list at any point. Armstead’s status will leave Devine Ozigbo and rookie UDFA James Robinson as the Jags’ running backs. This will be a team to monitor for waiver-claim adds at running back.

Nickerson, Giles-Harris and Orzich spent time on the Jaguars’ 53-man roster last season. The players jettisoned Saturday will become practice squad candidates, at least the bulk of them, on Sunday. Teams can begin signing players to their taxi squads Sunday, and after years of P-squads residing at 10 players, they will be 16-man units in this unique season.

LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase Opts Out Of 2020 Season

College football’s consensus No. 1 wide receiver, LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase, will opt out of the 2020 season and declare for the 2021 NFL draft, as Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports was the first to report. Chase is viewed as a potential top-five pick.

According to Dodd, Chase’s decision was not necessarily due to COVID-19. The SEC is still planning to play its 2020 season in the fall (for now), and while NFL GMs may be hesitant to select a prospect who has not played since the 2019 season when the 2021 draft comes along, it’s hard to imagine Chase’s opt-out impacting his stock too much.

The 6-foot, 208-pounder was part of LSU’s juggernaut offense last year, setting SEC single-season records in receiving yards (1,780) and receiving touchdowns (20). That same offense produced three skill positions players that were selected in the first round of the 2020 draft, including Chase’s running mate, Justin Jefferson. As good as Jefferson was, Chase was even better, winning the Biletnikoff Award in his sophomore season.

Thus far, Chase is the highest-profile collegiate player to opt out, though other first-round prospects and tantalizing receivers like Wake Forest’s Sage Surratt and Purdue’s Rondale Moore have also made that decision. It seems likely that plenty of other players will follow suit.

Chase’s formal announcement is expected tomorrow.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

South Notes: Ngakoue, Benson, Campbell

A little over a week ago, Michael Lombardi of The Athletic reported that the Jaguars were on the verge of a deal that would ship disgruntled defensive end Yannick Ngakoue out of Jacksonville. Jags GM Dave Caldwell refuted the report, saying no trade involving Ngakoue is imminent.

But Lombardi has doubled down and insists a trade will happen soon (subscription required). He says Ngakoue is not motivated by money right now, he is motivated by a change of scenery, so he is not worried about missing game checks. According to Lombardi, if Ngakoue is not traded, he will not report until the 10th game of the season, the deadline for him to be able to count the 2020 season as an accredited year towards free agency. And at that point, the trade deadline will be in the rear-view mirror and the Jaguars will be left with nothing but a comp pick when Ngakoue signs elsewhere.

On the other hand, Lombardi’s second report linked above was published on August 21, and nothing has materialized on the Ngakoue front since then. It is, as ever, a situation to keep an eye on.

Now for more from the league’s south divisions:

  • Saints owner Gayle Benson tested positive for COVID-19, the team announced. Luckily, the 73-year-old was not hospitalized and is recovering at her New Orleans home. Benson is the second NFL owner to test positive, joining the Cardinals’ Michael Bidwill. Bidwill was hospitalized for his symptoms but appears to have made a full recovery, and it sounds as if Benson will do the same.
  • Mike Chappell of Fox 59 reports that Colts wide receiver Parris Campbell is in the concussion protocol following a minor car accident earlier this week. Indianapolis nabbed the Ohio State speedster in the second round of last year’s draft, and after his rookie campaign was derailed due to injury, he was in the midst of a solid training camp this year. He is a roster lock, of course, but it’s unfortunate that his positive momentum has been slowed a bit.
  • The Texans activated Gareon Conley from the PUP list earlier this month, and Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reports that the 2017 first-rounder is progressing well from his offseason arthroscopic ankle surgery. Houston declined Conley’s fifth-year option for 2021, so he will be eligible for free agency next year and could cash in with a strong platform campaign. However, Wilson says second-year pro Lonnie Johnson and Conley are neck-and-neck for a starting job, as Conley has been inconsistent since his return to the field.
  • We learned earlier today that the Buccaneers are interested in extending longtime LB Lavonte David.

Big Ten Aiming For Thanksgiving Start?

A little over two weeks ago, the Big Ten announced that it would not play its fall schedule and would shoot for a spring slate instead. Now, however, the conference could be shifting gears.

As Bruce Feldman of The Athletic tweets, Big Ten coaches discussed the matter by phone this morning, and a reversal of the earlier decision is a strong possibility. Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (subscription required) was the first to report that the conference was considering an earlier start date, and that the goal is to open the season by Thanksgiving weekend.

If the Big Ten can pull off a 2020 season starting around Thanksgiving, that would obviously be a major boon for the NFL. As of now, the Pac 12 is the only other Power 5 conference to postpone its season to the spring, with the ACC, SEC, and Big 12 still pushing for a normal start. If the Pac 12 were to also have a Thanksgiving start date, the collegiate season for all Power 5 conferences would end no later than the middle of February, so the NFL could hold its scouting combine more or less on time and the 2021 draft could proceed as normal.

Of course, smaller conferences have already announced plans to postpone their fall schedules, but the Power 5 is where the NFL finds the vast majority of its talent. The league is reportedly willing to do whatever it can to make sure college football is played before the 2021 draft, but maybe it won’t have to do as much rearranging as it initially thought.

Angelique S. Chengelis of the Detroit News reports that Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has scheduled an NFL-style combine for his players on October 24, and players have been practicing combine-specific drills in preparation for the event, which will be open to NFL scouts. Perhaps Harbaugh will soon be able to shift his focus back to preparing for actual games.

Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports, however, cautions that it’s still early in the process and that Big Ten coaches and ADs are discussing a number of different start dates (Twitter link).

COVID-19 Test Results Cause Concern

NFL training camps had been rolling right along with very few COVID-19 cases. The positivity rate had been less than 1% (and dropping), and as of this morning, only four players league-wide were on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

But the NFL released a statement today indicating that yesterday’s testing returned several positive results from each team that is serviced by the same lab in New Jersey. The league is investigating those results, the impacted teams are working to confirm or deny the positive tests, and clubs around the league are taking precautionary measures, including altering or cancelling football activities today. The full statement can be found here, courtesy of Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network (on Twitter).

Luckily, it appears this might just be a issue with the testing site. Indeed, as Brad Biggs of the Chicago Times tweets, the Bears’ testing on Saturday yielded nine positive tests, but it turned out that all nine were false positives. The Bears have simply pushed back today’s morning practice to later in the afternoon, and at least a few clubs that aren’t serviced by the New Jersey location are practicing as normal.

Of course, even false positives during the regular season could force games to be canceled or force healthy players to sit out, so it may be a blessing in disguise that this has happened now so that the league will be better equipped to handle lab irregularities in the future. As of now, today’s news just seems to be a blip in the radar, but it is obviously worth keeping an eye on.