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NFL warns teams of forfeits, losses of draft picks for protocol violations as Titans’ outbreak relents

The Titans suffered the NFL's first coronavirus outbreak and had their game Sunday postponed. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Amid the first sign that the novel coronavirus outbreak on the Tennessee Titans might be abating, the NFL told the league’s head coaches and general managers during a call Monday that teams must comply with the sport’s protocols and warned them in a memo that further violations could result in the loss of draft picks or even forfeits of games.

The NFL said it also is implementing a video surveillance program to monitor teams’ adherence to the in-season coronavirus protocols developed by the league and the NFL Players Association.

“Simply put, compliance is mandatory,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in the memo to teams. “Now is the time to recommit ourselves to our protocols and best practices for the duration of the season.”

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Monday’s call and subsequent memo came with the league and the NFLPA reviewing the origins of the Titans’ outbreak. The Titans could face disciplinary measures by the NFL if they are found to have been in violation of the protocols, according to multiple people familiar with the league’s planning. Titans Coach Mike Vrabel said repeatedly last week that his team had been in compliance with protocols.

The Titans received no positive results Monday morning in their most recent set of coronavirus tests, ending a string of six straight days with positive test results and marking a first step toward the NFL reopening the team’s facility and proceeding with its scheduled Week 5 game this coming Sunday.

The test results were confirmed by a person with knowledge of the matter. The Titans had 18 positive tests, nine by players and nine by other members of the organization, returned between Tuesday and Sunday. Counting two from the previous week, the team has had 20 positive test results since Sept. 24.

“The protocols do not implement themselves … and our progress thus far cannot lead us to complacency,” Goodell wrote in Monday’s memo. “Complacency is our shared opponent. We must reinforce our commitment to full adherence to our mandatory safety protocols and best practices.”

Goodell wrote in the memo that the leaguewide video monitoring system will “ensure compliance with the protocols — particularly the mandate that all staff and players wear [personal protective equipment] while in a club facility and on travel at all times.”

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The NFL has fined coaches, teams and players for violations of the coronavirus protocols. The league fined Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller $30,000 on Monday for violating mask-wearing requirements at a fundraiser he held. Nine other Raiders players who attended the event, including quarterback Derek Carr and tight end Jason Witten, were fined $15,000 apiece.

Goodell wrote that the league and union will inspect teams’ facilities in addition to reviewing any cases of multiple positive tests on one team. Any discipline for protocol violations will “escalate where noncompliance continues,” Goodell wrote. He added that “violations that result in virus spread requiring adjustments to the schedule or otherwise impacting other teams will result in additional financial and competitive discipline, including the adjustment or loss of draft choices or even the forfeit of a game.”

According to Goodell’s memo, the video system and other changes to the protocols — including a prohibition on gatherings outside the team facility, limits on the number of player tryouts that teams can conduct weekly and a longer onboarding process for players participating in those tryouts — were discussed during Monday’s call.

The memo said other measures discussed Monday to consider include conducting all team meetings remotely; having all practice participants wear masks; reducing the number of people traveling to road games; cutting time spent in locker rooms and lunch rooms; and studying the data from the tracking devices used by teams for contact tracing to eliminate close contacts before there’s an issue with virus transmission.

The league closed the Titans’ facility Tuesday and rescheduled their game this past Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Nashville for Oct. 25 in Week 7. The Titans are scheduled to play Sunday at home against the Buffalo Bills, and further positive tests would put that game in jeopardy as well.

New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton tested positive, a person familiar with that situation confirmed Saturday. The league postponed the Patriots’ game Sunday at the Kansas City Chiefs, attributing the postponement to positive tests on both teams. The Chiefs confirmed Saturday they were placing practice squad quarterback Jordan Ta’amu, who reportedly tested positive, on their covid-19 reserve list.

Cam Newton tests positive for coronavirus; Patriots-Chiefs game postponed

The Patriots and Chiefs received no positive results Monday morning in their most recent set of tests, enabling the NFL to move forward with its plan for the rescheduled game to be played Monday night. The two postponed games were the first coronavirus-related disruptions to this season’s schedule.

The NFL has given preliminary consideration to a possible contingency of adding an 18th week to the regular season to provide additional flexibility with any future games that must be rescheduled, two people familiar with the league’s planning said Sunday.

“The consequences of rescheduling or even missing games are obvious,” Goodell wrote in Monday’s memo. “Our fans will be deprived of games. Competitive inequities will be introduced into our season. Players will not be paid for games not played and clubs will similarly suffer financial consequences.”