“These decisions were made out of an abundance of caution to ensure that a game would be available for fans on Sunday Night Football,” the NFL said in a written announcement. “We expect the Buccaneers-Raiders game to be played on Sunday afternoon. Scheduling decisions are made to ensure the health and safety of players, coaches and game day personnel and in consultation with medical experts.”
The Buccaneers-Raiders game in Las Vegas will now be played at 4:05 p.m. Eastern time and will be televised by Fox, according to the league’s announcement.
The Raiders placed safety Johnathan Abram and offensive linemen Denzelle Good, Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson and Kolton Miller on their covid-19 reserve list Thursday. That list is for players who test positive for the novel coronavirus or are found through contact tracing to have been exposed to the virus.
All of those players were deemed high-risk close contacts, according to a person familiar with the situation. They are subject to a five-day isolation, under a recent adjustment to the coronavirus protocols developed by the league and the NFL Players Association.
For the offensive linemen, their close contact was determined to be Monday, according to the person with knowledge of the matter. Their five-day isolation runs Tuesday through Saturday and, unless they test positive, they would be eligible to play Sunday.
For that reason, the NFL still expects the Raiders-Buccaneers game to be played Sunday, unless there are further positive tests, the person familiar with the league’s planning said. But, according to that person, the NFL did not want to wait any longer to make a determination about the nationally televised Sunday night game, given the possibility of further positive tests.
The Raiders had placed offensive tackle Trent Brown on their covid-19 reserve list Wednesday, reportedly after he tested positive. The Raiders sent home all five of their starting offensive linemen Wednesday, Coach Jon Gruden announced, while contact tracing was being conducted.
“That’s the same process that we employ for everybody. … It’s not an instantaneous process,” Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said in a conference call with reporters earlier Thursday. “We work through as quickly as we can.”
The NFL and the NFLPA are reviewing the Raiders’ situation, according to a person familiar with that review, based on the possibility that Brown did not wear his tracking device properly, as well as video showing gatherings of multiple offensive linemen not wearing masks at the team facility as required.
It’s possible that the team could face discipline by the league if it is found to have violated coronavirus protocols. The Tennessee Titans could be fined by the NFL, according to a person with knowledge of that case, after a review of their outbreak conducted by the league and NFLPA concluded that there were issues with compliance with mask-wearing requirements within the team facility. That review also found that the team failed to communicate sufficiently with players about prohibited off-site gatherings and workouts while the Titans’ facility was closed.
The Titans are not expected to lose draft picks or be forced to forfeit games, and no penalties for individual players, coaches or team officials are under consideration in the Tennessee case. That probably would set a precedent if the Raiders are found to have violated protocols in this instance, although NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a recent memo to teams that any protocol violations resulting in adjustments to the schedule or affecting other teams could result in game forfeits or the loss of draft picks.
Gruden, some Raiders players and the team already have been fined by the league for previous violations of coronavirus protocols.
The NFL has postponed several games this season after positive tests; others were rescheduled to accommodate the postponed games. The league had not yet preemptively rescheduled a game based primarily on contact-tracing issues.
This situation with the Raiders also raises the possibility of competitive considerations being a factor, with the affected players being mostly from the same position group. The league formed a committee of outside advisers before the season to assist Goodell with such matters. That would be an issue in this situation, multiple people familiar with the NFL’s thinking said Wednesday, if a significant number of the Raiders’ offensive linemen remain unavailable for the game.