Coronavirus concerns could make this NFL’s year of the backup QB

Coronavirus concerns could make this NFL’s year of the backup QB

June 30, 2020

The NFL for years has bent over backward to keep quarterbacks safe from predators with bad intentions.

Most notably its franchise quarterbacks, from Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson to Russell Wilson and Drew Brees and Tom Brady and so on and so forth.

But never have the NFL and the quarterback had to confront COVID-19.

No professional sports team is as dependent on one man as an NFL franchise is on its franchise quarterback.

Super Bowl dreams can shatter with one positive COVID-19 test and the accompanying quarantine.

Welcome to the NFL’s daunting new world: COVID and the Quarterback.

A red practice jersey, amid even the most stringent health protocols in training camps, will not be able to protect the quarterback from COVID-19.

The dilemma, for all 32 teams: Though extreme vigilance will be required for each and every player and coach, how can a team’s infection-control team in good conscience prioritize one player’s health during a pandemic over another’s by essentially attempting to Bubble Wrap its franchise quarterback as much and as often as it possibly can?

“EVERY player must be protected to the extent possible, just as we must all be protected,” Robyn Gershon, clinical professor of epidemiology at the NYU School of Global Health, wrote in an email.

“The QB can be exposed and infected by another player, that is why they MUST all be kept safe. Off the field and in their personal lives, they should maintain social distancing so that they do not get exposed and infected through community spread. Best practices for screening and isolation and retesting as per CDC Guidelines should be followed and I am sure the team’s health director will be familiar with these.”

Quarterbacks haven’t been in a huddle yet. They haven’t been sacked yet. They haven’t had to practice social distancing inside the facility with teammates and coaches in the meeting rooms, in the locker room, in the weight room, in the cafeteria.

“The enclosed spaces present more risk than open space like the field,” Gershon wrote. “(Exposure occurs in close AND sustained [15-30mins] proximity with an infected individual.)

Therefore routine and frequent testing of all people in close contact with each other is warranted. Daily symptom assessment and temperature checks is also prudent. If it is at all feasible to wear face masks in close quarters (obviously not showers), that would be best and is recommended by CDC.”

NFLPA medical director Thom Mayer has announced tentative plans to test NFL personnel three times a week and isolate anyone who tests positive. More reliable saliva testing could be ready by training camp.

Mahomes’ backup?

Chad Henne.

Brady’s backup?

Blake Bortles.

Think Bill Belichick wants a healthy Cam Newton starting over Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer?

Never has the backup quarterback become more important.

Jerry Jones and the Cowboys are best positioned to withstand any Dak Prescott calamity because they signed Andy Dalton — 0-5 in the playoffs, 204 touchdown passes — to a one-year, $7 million deal.

Jets GM Joe Douglas decided he better be wacko for Joe Flacco to back up Sam Darnold.

If Daniel Jones’ second-year leap is interrupted, Joe Judge can turn to an experienced Colt McCoy (29 TDs, 27 INTs).

The Colts are in good shape with last season’s starter, Jacoby Brissett, backing up Philip Rivers. The 49ers resisted trade offers for Nick Mullens, who threw 13 TDs against 10 INTs in 2018 when Jimmy Garoppolo (knee) was lost.

Jon Gruden believes he can resurrect Marcus Mariota (two years, $17.6 million) should Derek Carr underachieve. The Saints signed Jameis Winston to a one-year, $1.1 million deal to be Brees’ backup, when Taysom Hill is not deployed by mad scientist Sean Payton.

The Browns signed Case Keenum to a three-year, $18 million deal as Baker Mayfield’s backup. The Lions signed Chase Daniel — five career starts — to a three-year, $13.05 million deal as Matthew Stafford’s backup.

All good insurance moves.

Ask the 2019 Saints how invaluable it was to have Teddy Bridgewater backing up Brees. Bridgewater went 5-0 after Brees (thumb) had been sidelined early last season.

Ask the 2012 NFC champion 49ers how invaluable it was to have Colin Kaepernick — remember him? — to step in for Alex Smith (Nov. 11 concussion).

“Certainly, when you look at a lot of championship teams, you better have a winning backup quarterback,” Colts coach Frank Reich said. “You better have a guy that can step in there and win two or three or however many games it takes if the starter gets dinged up.”

COVID and the Quarterback. Fingers will be crossed all across the NFL.

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