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Tracker: Coronavirus altering NFL offseason

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From March to August, major changes have been implemented.

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The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is a global pandemic that has affected our daily life. Highly infectious, and dangerous to the sick and elderly, it has spread faster than our world was able to prepare, and the social impacts are impacting sports around the globe.

The Buffalo Bills announced on Thursday, March 12th that they were suspending the travel of coaches and scouts due to the coronavirus. Their staff was present at the Clemson Pro Day that day, but that will be the last trip they take in the near future. Months later, we still haven’t returned to normal.

We will be tracking live updates relating to the NFL, its teams, and the Buffalo Bills in this story. Below, we’ll also have some perspective on how COVID-19 has changed the offseason and will impact the regular season. If you need any information about the coronavirus, visit a trusted source like CDC.gov or your town/city/state government website. Headlines in this continuously updated article go from most recent at the top to oldest at the bottom.

We try to stay apolitical in our comments section. We should strive to keep the focus on how the virus affects the NFL, the Bills, and our community. Stay safe, protect your loved ones, and support each other. When in-person isolation and wearing a mask is the best way to stem the tide, our amazing community of football fans can be your support network.


Dawson Knox activated off COVID-19 list

Knox returns to the lineup after missing two games following a positive coronavirus test on October 24th.

Cardinals dealing with positive coronavirus tests before playing Dolphins, Bills

The Cardinals are hosting the Dolphins and Bills in back-to-back weeks an are now dealing with multiple positive tests. We’re keeping an eye on it for now, but it has the potential to impact the race for the AFC East and the Bills’ upcoming schedule.

Lee Smith activated from COVID-19 list

Smith is back after being a close contact of Dawson Knox and missing the game against the New York Jets.

COVID-19 rocks Bills tight end room, sidelining multiple players

TE Dawson Knox has tested positive for the coronavirus. His close contacts include Lee Smith, practice squader Nate Becker, and PUP list TE Tommy Sweeney. Tyler Kroft is clear because his wife was giving birth and he was out of the building. H-back Reggie Gilliam was in the running backs meeting room and will be able to play against the New York Jets.

Several formerly COVID-19 positive Titans will be able to play Buffalo

Here is the list of Titans players who tested positive but will now be able to play against Buffalo.

Tuesday morning results are clear; Bills vs Titans is on!

A collective sigh of relief.

Bills delay trip to Tennessee

For an unknown reason, the Bills’ flight left later than normal.

Monday morning results are negative for Titans

The game looks like it’s going to happen finally.

Bills vs Chiefs moved to Monday night’s early game in Week 6

Instead of a nationally televised Thursday night game, the Bills will play the Chiefs on Monday evening before the regularly scheduled Monday Night Football game.

Titans hold first official practice in more than a week

The Titans were back on the practice field Sunday to prep for their game against the Bills.

Tennessee Titans have another COVID-positive result Sunday

The game is officially in jeopardy again.

Negative results come back Friday in Tennessee

Another positive step with a negative result.

Bills cancel Friday’s practice

With news that the Bills won’t play this Sunday, the Bills gave players the day off on Friday knowing a short week is coming after the game against the Titans.

Official: Titans vs Bills moved from Sunday to Tuesday night

The Bills will be playing in prime time against the Titans. This gives Tennessee enough time to prep for the game. We hope.

Options abound for moving Bills vs. Titans

Monday, Tuesday, and later in the season are all still on the table.

Another day, another positive Titans test

The Bills and Titans can’t play on Sunday with positives still trickling in for Tennessee.

Report: Titans violated NFL protocols, including holding off-site practices during quarantine

Wow. WOW. This is reckless and could completely screw up the entire NFL season. Let’s hope they face some discipline.

Two more Titans test positive

This is getting ridiculous.

Raiders player tests positive following game against the Bills

The player was potentially infectious during the game. That’s two for Las Vegas.

All of our coverage: Bills vs Titans threatened by coronavirus concerns

Our coverage for the game against the Titans has been dominated by COVID.

Raiders DT Maurice Hurst tests positive for COVID-19

Obviously he was in contact with the Bills’ offensive line during the game and participated in the postgame handshakes, hugging Josh Allen.

Zero new cases for Titans Monday

The Titans are back on track.

Tennessee Titans running out of time to prep for Bills

With a sixth straight day featuring a positive COVID-19 test, the soonest the Titans could be back in their facility is Wednesday. Another positive result tomorrow, and they will need to play on a short practice week.

Bills vs Raiders becomes national game after Patriots vs Chiefs postponement

The Patriots delayed their trip to Kansas City due to a positive coronavirus result from QB Cam Newton. Now the Bills’ game in Las Vegas is the national late afternoon game. Here’s the new map.

Multiple options exist for Bills game vs Titans

Playing it as scheduled still tops the list, but rescheduling the game against Tennessee will have implications for the Kansas City Chiefs game the following week and perhaps the rest of the league.

Three more positive COVID-19 results for Titans on Saturday

It’s up to 16 members of the team and staff now.

Tennessee Titans’ Week 4 game postponed

The Bills face the Titans in Week 5, so it might actually help Buffalo with Tennessee having less time to prepare.

Bills say NYS won’t let them have fans in October

In a release to season ticket holders, the team laid the blame at the feet of the New York State Department of Health.

Eight member of Tennessee Titans test positive for COVID-19

The Bills play the Titans in just 12 days.

Bills attempting to have fans for Thursday Night Football in October

The Bills and Erie County want to have 7000 or so fans for the Thursday Night Football game against the Super Bowl Champs. (NYS put the lid on the idea.)

Miami barely sold 11,000 tickets for Bills game

Maybe folks really are worried...

Titans become third team on Buffalo’s schedule to allow fans in the stands

Maybe you want to make the trip to Nashville...

Pinto Ron’s consecutive games streak is over

Ron talked to us about how he’s changing the streak to “games that allow fans” and what his plans are for this season, plus what he did in Week 1 when he couldn’t be at the game.

Denver is the second locale Bills will see opposing fans

The Broncos announced on September 8th that fans would be in attendance for early season games in Denver. The Bills travel to Denver in December. Miami is the other city on Buffalo’s schedule allowing fans.

No cardboard fans in the stands in Buffalo

Buffalo has chosen not to place cardboard cutouts in the seats at Bills Stadium

Buffalo protects four practice squad players under new COVID rules

For the first time in NFL history, teams can protect up to four players on their practice squad from being signed to another team’s roster. Offensive lineman Evan Boehm, defensive tackle Justin Zimmer, and cornerbacks Dane Jackson and Cam Lewis were the four picked by Buffalo.

Buffalo one of two NFL locales requiring face coverings on the sideline

San Francisco and Buffalo are the only two cities where everyone on the sideline needs to wear a mask.

Review all the new rules in place for roster building under COVID-19 agreement

Lots of new rules are in place for practice squads, injured reserve, and more.

Steve Tasker set to replace Eric Wood on the radio call due to travel restrictions

With folks heading to New York needing to quarantine for two weeks, and Wood’s travel schedule taking him all over ACC territory and back home to Kentucky, the Bills aren’t going to have him on the call for the foreseeable future.

No “Buffalo Bills: Embedded” this summer

All sorts of filming and COVID-19 restrictions kept the show off the air.

Bills have suspended reporter, radio host Chris Brown

Several new restrictions on the media were put in place due to COVID-19 and the team’s own beat reporter violated them to the point where he was suspended.

No private tailgate lots will be open in Orchard Park

If you were planning on going to hang out with your friends near the stadium, you should make other plans.

Miami to allow fans at Dolphins games

It’s not a huge number, but Sean McDermott is still miffed.

11 teams including Bills hit with multiple false positive tests

The Bills had to postpone practice on Sunday, August 23rd, as four players and more than a dozen staff members received a false positive on their Saturday COVID-19 test. Around the league, 77 false positives were reported from one facility in New Jersey. Starting QB Josh Allen was among those players who had to sit out practice.

NFL considering pumping in crowd noise for games

With some states and teams permitting fans and others barring them from stadiums, the NFL is considering letting teams pipe in noise to level the playing field.

Opinion: virtual interviews are leading to more insightful answers

For whatever reason, players and coaches are feeling more comfortable in virtual interviews. Maybe it’s because they can’t see the interviewers or they are not getting anxious in front of people, but comments have become very insightful.

The PAC-12 and Big Ten cancel fall football

That is obviously going to change the NFL Draft scouting process.

GM Brandon Beane preparing for frugal future

With the salary cap potentially cratering to $175 million in 2021, Beane knows he’s going to have to adjust his vision.

Bills’ radio broadcast team likely staying home in 2020

Eric Wood is in Louisville, so he has no idea what he’s doing on fall Sundays. John Murphy is likely calling all the games from Orchard Park, including the road tilts.

Duke Williams activated from COVID-19 list

All good. He was the last Bills player on the list.

Tre’Davious White considering opting out of 2020 season

The All-Pro cornerback is worried about his longtime girlfriend watching their children by herself when family can’t come and visit. Her grandfather passed away from the virus earlier this year.

Siran Neal, Ike Brown activated from COVID-19 list

Two more players are back on the roster.

Inside the Bills’ strategy to mitigate COVID-19

Sean McDermott shared what the team is doing to stop the spread of the coronavirus inside the facility.

COVID-19 opt out deadline is August 6th

Players can’t opt out after this deadline.

Opinion: Bills shouldn’t bother with a quarantined QB

Some NFL teams are keeping a QB in isolation, to protect from all of their quarterbacks being diagnosed with the coronavirus at the same time. Jeff Kantrowski offers his take on why it will be useless to have a quarantined QB away from the facility if the virus is blazing though the position room.

Bills’ DT Vincent Taylor removed from Reserve/COVID-19 list

He’s back on the active roster.

Deadline for players to opt out of 2020 season is Thursday, August 6th

They have until 4 PM Eastern to make the call, then they can only opt out with a change in diagnosis.

NFL extends weekly deadline for practice squad elevations

In case of a positive test result or symptoms on a Sunday, the teams will have the ability to promote a player from the practice squad all the way up until inactives are due 90 minutes before kickoff.

Bills welcome 81 players back to One Bills Drive

The Bills are back on the field!!!!!

Beane explains new practice squad rules

“Protected” players aren’t very protected in a roster control sense plus a lot more on the new rules for players on the taxi squad here. From 8/2.

Brandon Beane, Sean McDermott discuss changes made for COVID-19

The pair met with the media before training camp officially gets under way on Monday, 8/3. They went through the changes in mentality, physical spacing, the roster, and a bunch more.

Siran Neal apparently received a false positive

If that’s true, Neal can return to the team really soon. He’s had multiple negative results following the positive test. (8/1)

In wake of five positive cases involving two rookies, Bills send rookies home Thursday

With rookies being the only players in the main part of the building (some injured veterans were receiving medical treatment), the Bills decided to send them home to attend meetings virtually after the fifth positive COVID-19 test came back. At this point, we have not heard if any of the infected players actually made it into the building. Rookie CB Dane Jackson should have passed his first two tests the week of July 21st with the rest of the rookies but came back with a positive test on Thursday the 30th.

Bills add four more players to Reserve/COVID-19 list

Over the course of Wednesday and Thursday, four more players were added to the Reserve/COVID-19 list joining Ike Brown. Siran Neal, Dane Jackson, Vincent Taylor, and Duke Williams will be out for an indeterminate period of time.

DT Star Lotulelei opts out of the 2020 NFL season

The Bills’ starting defensive tackle joined the list of players voluntarily opting out of the 2020 NFL season. He receives a $150,000 advance on his 2021 salary and the remaining years of his contract and guaranteed money remain in tact, but delayed a year. More info in our article from 7/28.

Bills place CB Isaiah Brown on Reserve-COVID List

Brown’s placement on the list on July 27th means he either tested positive for COVID-19 or was exposed to someone who has tested positive. He is on the list for three weeks.

NFL, NFLPA agree on massive changes for 2020 season

Read the full article for all the details. Expanded practice squads, opt out language, the elimination of preseason games, salary and salary cap language, and a whole lot more is inside this article. It’s the big one.

Rosters need to be cut to 80 by August 16th. Players and team personnel who engage in risky behaviors can be fined. There is a ramp up period of 20 days of strength and conditioning before the 14 padded practices. No preseason games. Who is considered “low risk” and who is “high risk”? Practice squads will bump up to 16 players, with six of those players being allowed to have an unlimited number of accrued seasons. Four practice squad players will be protected by the team each week and unable to sign elsewhere. The 2021 salary cap won’t dip below $175 million, with any shortfalls being made up between 2021 and 2024.

Seriously, read the whole article for the details.

Bills defer all season tickets to 2021, still hope to have some fans at games

While season tickets were bumped one season from 2020 to 2021, the team also is holding out hope that at least some single game tickets will go on sale. NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo previously stated no fans would be allowed at games this year. Season ticket holders can receive a refund or let the Bills keep the money to be used toward their 2021 tickets.

Testing protocols in place as rookies report to training camp

The NFL’s testing began as rookies reported to training camp, then return to their home or hotel room for two days of virtual learning, before reporting for a second test on Day 4. Only then can they take a physical and come inside the facility for the first time.

Report: NFL’s latest proposal to NFLPA includes just one preseason game

With the players not wanting to spread the virus and worried about getting back into playing shape, the NFLPA has suggested no preseason games be played in 2020. The NFL has countered with a proposal of one preseason game. The two sides are working on an agreement surrounding COVID-19 protocols.

NFL sends training camp dates to teams

The NFL announced last week that rookies would be allowed to report to training camp to begin the ramp up period toward the preseason on Tuesday, July 21st. Quarterbacks and injured players can come later in the week on the 23rd, while everyone else can come on July 28th. Each arrival will begin with a coronavirus screening. (More info here.)

NFLPA not happy with NFL’s plan for preseason, regular season

Kim Pegula speaks on personal, professional changes stemming from coronavirus

The Bills’ owner was the guest writer for Peter King’s weekly column, going into great detail about how COVID-19 has changed her normal routines both inside and outside of the team facility. She went so far as to mention how she and her husband purposefully chose their wardrobe to virtually meet the rookies because they don’t get the normal random interactions in the building. Read more here from July 6.

NFL shortens preseason by two games amid response to pandemic

The NFL wanted a longer runway for NFL players to get acclimated to the hard workouts of training camp after not having a regular offseason to ramp up. The move also limits the risks associated with travel and being in the same space as an additional team. The NFLPA is still balking at the idea of playing any preseason games. More info from July 2.

Bills make changes to season ticket policy amid COVID-19

The Buffalo Bills are allowing season ticket holder to defer their purchase a year but still be able to maintain their current seat. In addition, they are not withdrawing an automatic payments for the foreseeable future. More info in our July 1 article here.

McDermott: Bills preparing for coronavirus training camp in multiple ways

The Bills head coach discussed his concerns and questions during his “offseason” press conference at the end of June. We compiled all of his coronavirus comments here on June 25th.

No St. John Fisher: all NFL training camps will take place at team facilities

Josh Allen getting together with Stefon Diggs for the first time in Florida

McDermott shares details of Bills’ offseason program changes due to COVID-19

County Executive: We won’t know how many are allowed in stadium until August

Bills owner Kim Pegula named to advisory board taske with re-opening NYS

Bills players checking in for rehab via telemedicine

Brandon Beane checks in with Adam Schefter on preparing for a virtual draft

Bills using FaceTime to meet with prospects before the draft

GM Brandon Beane donates cash, offers experiences to those who donate to COVID-19 relief efforts

“Plausible, not optimistic” we’ll have fans at NFL games this fall, says epidemiologist

Bills players donating time, money to aid those affected by coronavirus

Kim & Terry Pegula pledge $1.2 million to aide those affected by coronavirus

NFL Draft still scheduled for late April, despite general managers’ concern

Team facilities across the country closed to football-related personnel

NFL Physicians halt physicals until “more appropriate time”

NFL makes Game Pass free for the foreseeable future

Saints head coach Sean Payton tests positive for COVID-19

NFL alters rules for announcing signing before physicals are complete

NFL teams including contingency language in trades, contracts with physicals disrupted

Officially announcing a signing or trade is going to take some time

NFL says no visits to team facilities for physicals

NFL Draft won’t be a public event anymore

NFL league year will start on time

Pegulas aren’t paying KeyBack Center event staff during hiatus

NFL cancels all college player visits at schools and at team facilities

Our podcast rounding up the latest as of Friday morning

Everything staying status quo with new league year, CBA voting

Some teams completely shuttering facilities

Buffalo Bills suspend travel for coaches and scouts

NFL cancels its annual spring meeting

Philadelphia Eagles close their training facility

More NFL teams cancel travel:

Pre-draft visit decisions are up to the teams, not the NFL

NFL not planning to move the league calendar yet

Teams discussing shutting down facilities

Pro Days being cut down to only the essentials

Teams cancelling pre-draft workouts

NFL has all staff work from home until further notice

Washington Redskins suspend all travel for employees

First NFL event postponed


Player, staff, and family health

First and foremost, the reason this is such an issue is that there are people we care about, that we want to keep healthy. While NFL athletes may be in top physical condition, that doesn’t necessarily apply to their spouses, their children, their extended family. Any athlete who contracts the virus could potentially put his loved ones at risk.

And that concern doubles when factoring in the coaches, scouts, training staff, service workers at the team facility, and others. These are people who don’t necessarily have the luxury of great conditioning (especially scouts, who spend 200 days per year living out of rental cars). They all have family too. While they have jobs to do, it shouldn’t come at the expense of their safety and security.

And a ton of NFL players and their families go on vacation following the season, spending time in areas under even more scrutiny than the United States.

Free agency

Amid the dollar negotiations and phone calls, the most important recruitment effort for free agency is to bring players to visit their prospective employers. It’s a time-honored tradition to wine and dine a potential signing, to give him a tour of the facilities, to have him meet with the coaches and the training staff.

This is especially important for a team like Buffalo, who has long faced a stigmatic perception of being the NFL’s frozen wasteland.

With so much work to change the culture of the team, including the state-of-the-art training facilities, those in-person visits are crucial to sell Buffalo’s pitch. A Skype call just doesn’t deliver the same impact. NFL players and their agents will weigh the risk of heading to airports and flying to cities against their health risks, and it might force the most creative negotiation period in recent memory.

NFL Draft preparation

Free agents aren’t the only ones flying around the nation. If anything, the NFL Draft puts even more pressure on NFL teams to go around. There are hundreds of schools and prospects to investigate through this process. Schools traditionally run Pro Days during the spring, giving their athletes exposure to professional staffs, but with schools like Boston College shutting down early and closing their dorms, those events may not happen everywhere.

Even where Pro Days do take place, NFL teams are sending their scouts to watch, their coaches to run position drills, their executives for supervision. Remember, the biggest risk for infection is to participate in large group gatherings—so what happens when Alabama hosts its Pro Day and all 32 teams send a dozen representatives? All those people are travelling around the country and at risk for exposure to COVID-19, even if they take the team’s private jet.

Speaking of flight, the other part of the pre-draft process affected is the tradition of pre-draft visits. Each team is allowed 30. They’re even more crucial this year, since the number of private meetings at the Combine dropped from 60 to 45 as part of the schedule change. For the franchises, this is the only permissible way to have a personal meeting with a player and find out how he fits with the team culture. But every personal meeting now carries that risk of transmission.

Fan gatherings, large events, and season milestones

It’s still more than a month away, but at this point the NFL is taking a hard look at whether to adjust the NFL Draft in Las Vegas next month. As long as the virus circulates the world, it’s irresponsible to bring together tens of thousands of people to a live event, let alone a few hundred for an individual team’s draft party.

We may end up in a throwback world where 32 GMs join together on a live conference call with studio reporting from Mel Kiper’s basement.

Moving further ahead, how will the NFL handle Organized Team Activities? Rookie minicamps and the Rookie Symposium? Will training camps be open to the public?

The closest we’ve come to this sort of concern is whenever a team experiences a MRSA outbreak—but we’ve never reached something on a global scale now.

We’ll continue to update this article with new information as teams and the league respond to the growing pandemic.