When the coronavirus pandemic initially struck in March 2020 and railroaded every sport across the world for the better part of six months, the NFL surveyed the landscape and decided to forge ahead. The decision was met with a hefty heap of criticism at the time because everything we knew about the virus screamed that trudging along like everything was fine is the best way to ensure everything will fall apart.
Still, the league went on and managed to complete a full season without canceling a game. There were plenty of trip-ups along the way, with games getting delayed and teams losing bye weeks because of widespread outbreaks. But the season was finished and a champion was crowned. On the other hand, many players and personnel tested positive for COVID. So it would be fair to call the results of the grand experiment a mixed bag, even if the larger goal was accomplished.
As the NFL prepares to embark upon another season (and one that will look and feel more normal, even if COVID is still very much a problem), the Los Angeles Times published a profile of Roger Goodell's 2020 season and how he worked to make everything happen. Within this profile was a note about the Denver Broncos' game against the New Orleans Saints last November. The game will forever be remembered not because it was good or meaningful in any way, but because the Broncos were forced to start practice squad WR Kendall Hinton at quarterback after all the quarterbacks on the roster had to enter quarantine because of contact tracing. It was an absolute disaster of a game and Hinton was lucky he didn't get seriously hurt.
It was within the NFL's power to postpone the game to some degree. They had done the same thing with several teams earlier in the year. Everybody wondered why they didn't with Broncos-Saints. As it turns out, Goodell refused because the Denver QB room had attempted to trick the contact tracing devices they were required to wear. Per the LA Times:
John Elway, Denver’s president of football operations, made several frustrated pleas to Goodell to postpone the Sunday game until Tuesday, when the quarterbacks would be available. The league denied those requests because surveillance video from Denver’s facility showed the quarterbacks had tried to fool the system. They had removed their contact-tracing devices and put them in the four corners of the meeting room, then they sat together to watch film. That close contact automatically made them ineligible to play.
It seems unbelievably stupid that Drew Lock and his cohorts did that. What was the endgame here? They could sit closer together? The cost-benefit analysis is wildly out of whack.
If it were early in the season it would make more sense. Plenty of players have been and continue to be vocal about how dumb they think some of the rules are. But it was November. This was Week 12. Everyone knew that the rules, while questionable in their effectiveness, would be strictly enforced. It seems extremely dumb, for lack of a better word, to break them for the privilege of sitting six feet closer to each other than they would have otherwise.
The NFL does not come across great here, either. The Broncos broke the rules, sure, but anyone who watched that game will acknowledge that literally anything would have been better than playing as scheduled. If they wanted to punish the quarterbacks for their insubordination, just make the team forfeit. Forcing Hinton to play quarterback for the first time since college because the NFL wanted to make a point is both on par with previous decision-making with Goodell in charge and a gigantic unnecessary risk for the most risk-averse sports league in the world.
Both sides should be happy this didn't end worse.