While the coronavirus pandemic has largely taken a backseat to other issues in recent weeks, news broke Monday regarding COVID-19 and the NFL that could have a significant impact on how things play out in the coming weeks and months.
Several #Cowboys players & several #Texans players have tested positive for COVID-19 recently, sources tell me & @TomPelissero. None of the players are believed to have been in their team facilities. The teams followed proper health protocols.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 15, 2020
Specifically, with multiple players for the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans reportedly testing positive, the immediate question becomes which players on each team have tested positive. Both teams have a larger number of star players, including running back Ezekiel Elliott, who was up until the recent contract extension given to Christian McCaffrey the highest paid player at the position.
#Cowboys star RB Ezekiel Elliott is one of the players who has tested positive for the Coronavirus, his agent Rocky Arceneaux confirmed to me. Arceneaux said Elliott is feeling good.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 15, 2020
Obviously NFL players fall into an age bracket where death is a far less likely outcome from COVID-19 compared to other age groups, however, it is a disease that can have other impacts on the body that could affect a player’s ability to perform on the field. Specifically, lung scarring and blood clots in the lungs are a known issue with many patients, and those are issues that have sidelined other players, or even pushed them into retirement, in the past.
Russell Okung, who started his career with the Seattle Seahawks, started the 2019 season on the Non-Football Injury list for the Los Angeles Chargers after a pulmonary embolism landed him in the hospital one year ago this month. In addition, New England Patriots center David Andrews spent the 2019 season on injured reserve after blood clots were found in his lungs during training camp. In short, while Elliott, and whichever other members of the two teams who have become infected are likely to recover from the illness, the possibility exists that they could miss part or all of the 2020 season if there are long term effects from the illness.
That could be huge for the players, as with team facilities having been closed this offseason, the inability of a player to contribute could be considered a non-football injury, which could land the player on the NFI list. That is an important designation because of the simple fact that players on NFI are only paid at the discretion of the team, even if their salary is fully guaranteed. So, even though Elliott’s entire 2020 base salary of $6.8M is fully guaranteed, if he should develop blood clots in his lungs or some other ailment that precludes him from performing in 2020, landing on the NFI list could reduce his 2020 salary to nothing. This makes how the league and the NFLPA will handle the question of long term impacts on players following an infection with COVID-19 crucial, as it could result in the loss of tens of millions of dollars by players.
In any case, wishing the best of luck and a speedy recovery to Elliott and any other player who has become infected by the coronavirus.