Baltimore Ravens star quarterback Lamar Jackson tested positive for the novel coronavirus, part of the team’s ongoing outbreak that is jeopardizing this weekend’s already postponed game in Pittsburgh and could lead to the NFL’s regular season being extended by a week.
The positive test result for Jackson, the NFL’s reigning most valuable player, was confirmed by a person familiar with the situation. According to another person with knowledge of the matter, the Ravens had four additional players test positive for the coronavirus, in all.
“Praying for my brother [Jackson] and every player, staff member and their families dealing with COVID-19,” Ravens backup quarterback Robert Griffin III wrote on Twitter. “Ensuring the safety of the entire organization is important. Handling this outbreak within the team is bigger than football.”
The Ravens-Steelers game remained scheduled, as of Thursday night, for Sunday at 1:15 p.m. Eastern time, according to a person familiar with the NFL’s planning. But the additional positive test results for the Ravens returned Thursday night further imperiled the status of that game, given the NFL’s stance that it must be confident that transmission of the virus is contained before a game is played.
The game already has been pushed back once after originally being scheduled for Thanksgiving night.
If the Ravens-Steelers game is further delayed until Monday or Tuesday, that would impact the Ravens’ scheduled game next Thursday night against the Dallas Cowboys. If the Ravens-Steelers game cannot be played at all in Week 12, the NFL could be forced to add a Week 18 to the regular season. League leaders have said they would do that if all games cannot be played in the current 17-week framework. The Ravens and Steelers already have had their bye weeks, so the game could not be rescheduled for later in the season without the addition of a Week 18.
Whenever the Ravens play next, they are likely to be without Jackson. Under the NFL’s treatment protocols, a player with a confirmed coronavirus case is placed in isolation and cannot rejoin team activities for at least 10 days. The timeline for the player’s return depends upon further testing results and the development of any symptoms.
Griffin, the former NFL offensive rookie of the year for Washington, would be in line to start in Jackson’s place. With third-string quarterback Trace McSorley already on the team’s COVID-19 reserve list, practice squad quarterback Tyler Huntley could be Griffin’s backup.
NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport was the first to report Jackson’s positive test, citing informed sources. ESPN confirmed the report later Thursday, with Adam Schefter reporting four more Ravens’ players and one more staffer had tested positive.
The team did not respond to a request for comment.
Ravens players were told today by their HC John Harbaugh that, for everyone’s safety, they will not be allowed back in the training facility until Monday at the earliest, sources tell ESPN.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 27, 2020
Ravens are scheduled to play Steelers on Sunday, so that game doesn’t seem possible.
Five Ravens players and four staffers previously tested positive for COVID-19 over the last week. Running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins and defensive linemen Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell are among those who tested positive, and had been ruled out for the Steelers game. ESPN’s Dan Graziano reported that seven players tested positive before Thursday, including McSorley, linebacker Pernell McPhee, center Matt Skura, and guard Patrick Mekari.
The Ravens announced late Wednesday evening they were disciplining a staff member for actions related to the team’s coronavirus cases. The team declined to provide further details, but The Athletic-Baltimore reported the team’s head strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders was the suspended staffer, citing sources familiar with situation but not authorized to speak publicly. He’s in his fifth year with the team.
The NFL is leaving open the possibility of disciplining the Ravens, according to a person close to the situation. The league previously fined the Tennessee Titans $350,000 and fined the Las Vegas Raiders $500,000 and stripped them of a sixth-round draft pick for protocol violations.
And the Ravens weren’t the only team confronting COVID issues.
The Atlanta Falcons and Cleveland Browns announced they were operating remotely Thursday because of positive coronavirus tests. The Falcons said they had positive tests by two staffers not on the coaching staff. The Browns said they had a positive test result by a player.
The Browns did place defensive end Porter Gustin on the reserve/COVID-19 list, further weakening a group already missing star Myles Garrett.
Gustin’s positive test forced the Browns to close their facility for the third day in a row to conduct contact tracing. With Gustin now out, the Browns will be missing five players, including Garrett and defensive end Joe Jackson to coronavirus, which has been spiking in the NFL and across the country. Starting linebacker Sione Takitaki and fullback Andy Janovich are also on the COVID list after testing positive.
Top cornerback Denzel Ward will also sit out Sunday’s game against the Jaguars with a calf strain that is expected to keep him off the field for several weeks. The Browns did have some good news as offensive lineman Chris Hubbard was activated from the COVID list after testing positive on Nov. 13. He missed two games.
Smith comeback to continue?
Alex Smith’s comeback would have been impressive had he never stepped back on the field. A broken fibula and tibia and 17 surgeries thanks to an infection left him barely able to walk. Just fighting his way back to normal was miraculous.
Now the starting quarterback for the Washington Football Team, the team wants more of the 36-year-old Smith.
Coach Ron Rivera and his staff want Smith back for the 2021 season, sources told NFL.com. A nod to not only his leadership in the quarterback room, but also simply how he’s played. Smith has not said publicly or privately whether he wants to play in 2021, but he is under contract through 2022.
Smith is set to make $19 million next season, a reasonable rate for a bridge quarterback. Washington will be in position to draft a quarterback next season as it appears unlikely to want to go with Dwayne Haskins or Kyle Allen.
Former coach Hanifan dies
Jim Hanifan, the former St. Louis Cardinals coach who returned to the city as offensive line coach to help the Rams win the Super Bowl in 1999, has died. He was 87.
Hanifan’s daughter, Kathy Hinder, said the cause of death hasn’t been determined, but said it wasn’t related to COVID-19.
The Cardinals’ head coach from 1980-85, Hanifan is best known for his offensive lines as an assistant with St. Louis and Washington. He coached star tackle Dan Dierdorf and notorious guard Conrad Dobler with St. Louis, then directed the “Hogs” in Washington.
Dolphins hopeful for Tua
Tua Tagovailoa’s sore thumb was better Thursday, and Dolphins coach Brian Flores expressed optimism his rookie quarterback will be able to play Sunday against the New York Jets. Tagovailoa hurt the thumb on his throwing hand in practice and was limited in practice for the second day in a row. “He got banged up a little bit,” Flores said. “I don’t think this is something we’re too worried about. He’s getting treatment, he’s rehabbing. We’ll see how this goes. It’s sore, but he’s a tough kid. He has played through some things before.” Tagovailoa was sacked six times before being pulled in the fourth quarter of the Dolphins’ loss last weekend at Denver, but he remains the No. 1 quarterback ahead of veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick … Sam Darnold was a full participant at practice, putting the New York Jets quarterback on track to start Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. Darnold missed the 0-10 Jets’ past two games with a shoulder injury, his second since October … The Los Angeles Rams placed leading tackler Micah Kiser on injured reserve. The Rams’ starting middle linebacker will be sidelined for at least three weeks. Kiser injured his knee late in the Rams’ 27-24 victory at Tampa Bay on Monday night, coach Sean McVay said. Kiser leads the team with 77 tackles, along with three passes defensed and a forced fumble. Troy Reeder is likely to play extensively in Kiser’s absence. Reeder started eight games last season before playing a backup role this season … Green Bay Packers reserve defensive lineman Montravius Adams is expected to miss the rest of the season because of a toe injury.