A day after they were originally scheduled to face the Pittsburgh Steelers in a primetime Thanksgiving matchup, the Baltimore Ravens continue to navigate the fallout of their ongoing COVID-19 outbreak — and the NFL continues to weigh its scheduling options.
The Ravens’ outbreak, which has affected players and staff members alike, prompted the league to postpone the Baltimore-Pittsburgh game to Sunday afternoon. And additional adjustments might be necessary.
USA TODAY Sports confirmed Thursday night that Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is among those who have tested positive for the virus, which is still surging across the country.
Here’s the latest on the situation with the Ravens, and how the NFL could address it.
The NFL faces a tough situation with the Baltimore Ravens’ COVID-19 outbreak, which included a positive test for QB Lamar Jackson. (Photo: Mitchell Layton, USA TODAY Sports)
How many Ravens have tested positive for COVID-19?
The exact size and scope of the Ravens’ outbreak is still not entirely clear, but according to multiple reports, at least a dozen players and several staff members have been affected so far.
The team had 10 players on the Reserve/COVID-19 list as of Friday morning, eight of whom have landed there in the past four days. That total does not include Jackson, who was expected to be placed on the list as early as Friday. (The Reserve/COVID-19 list can be used for players who are deemed to have been in close contact with someone who tested positive, in addition to those who test positive themselves.)
ESPN reported Thursday night that the team’s most recent batch of COVID-19 testing revealed five new positive tests, involving four players and one staff member.
“We just want to contain this outbreak!” Ravens defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who tested positive for COVID-19 this week, wrote on Twitter on Friday morning. “Speaking from experience…you don’t want to catch covid! This virus is brutal! I pray no one else has to go thru [sic] this. This is bigger than football.”
How did the outbreak start?
The Ravens announced Wednesday that they had disciplined an unnamed staff member “for conduct surrounding the recent COVID-19 cases that have affected players and staff at the Ravens.”
The Athletic reported the staff member is head strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders, and NFL Network reported that he failed to report symptoms or consistently wear a mask.
The Tennessee Titans were fined by the league earlier this season for failing to follow COVID-19 protocols, and it’s possible that Baltimore could similarly face discipline.
Is Ravens’ game still on for Sunday?
As of Friday morning, yes. But it’s looking increasingly likely that will change.
Friday is likely to be the fifth consecutive day in which the Ravens place a player on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. And coach John Harbaugh told players Thursday night that they would not be able to return to the team’s practice facility until Monday at the earliest, according to ESPN.
While that statement does not necessarily preclude the Ravens from playing Sunday, it’s not a promising sign.
The Steelers, meanwhile, canceled their practice Friday while awaiting clarification on Sunday’s game, according to spokesperson Burt Lauten.
What are the NFL’s options?
If the Ravens and Steelers cannot play Sunday as scheduled, the league would have a few different avenues to explore. Namely, it could try to move the game again, or just cancel it.
A second postponement is possible but tricky. Pushing the game by a day or two, and trying to play it perhaps Monday or Tuesday, would probably also require the league to move the Ravens’ subsequent game against the Dallas Cowboys, which is scheduled for next Thursday. Pushing the game to later in the season, perhaps with the long-speculated creation of an 18th week, would also have broader ripple effects to the league’s schedule — perhaps even leading to a new date for the Super Bowl.
Canceling the game would cause its own headaches. If the NFL determines the Ravens are at fault for the outbreak, would they be forced to forfeit the game? And in the event of such a forfeit, would players on either team be paid? (ESPN reported that the answer is no, while Pro Football Talk reported it is “unresolved.”)
What are the next steps?
The league will ostensibly have to make a determination on the Ravens-Steelers game at some point in the next 24 hours. Pro Football Talk reported the decision would come Friday.
Scheduling aside, the focus will continue to be on getting the Ravens’ outbreak under control and ensuring there is no further spread. NFL chief medical officer Allen Sills told NFL Network on Wednesday that the league has been rigorously investigated the Ravens’ outbreak and believes it has “a really good handle” on when and how it began.
“I think we feel like we’re just a couple of days away from being out of that window of vulnerability for that transmission event,” Sills told the network.
Contact Tom Schad at email@example.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.
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