COVID-19 updates: Record 96 NFL players test positive

Several sports leagues across the U.S. are dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks, with teams in the NHL, NFL and NBA — and now college football — hit particularly hard.

As teams come to grips with their respective situations — the protocols for which differ based on the leagues and cities in which they play — concerns about player safety remain at the forefront.

Although there are no indications of any looming league shutdowns, as the NBA was first to do in March 2020, the situation bears monitoring, given the recent spate of positive cases.

Here is the latest:

DEC. 28

NFL Player’s Association modifies COVID-19 protocols

The NFL and NFLPA have agreed to reduce the quarantine time from 10 days to five days for players who are asymptomatic, regardless of their vaccination status.

Players who have recently tested positive will be eligible to play this coming weekend barring any symptoms.

Holiday Bowl is canceled

The surge in COVID-19 cases across the sports world made a negative impact on the college football bowl season, with the Holiday Bowl between UCLA and NC State being canceled.

DEC. 27

Record 96 NFL players test positive

A record 106 NFL players were added to the league’s reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday, according to Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network. That included 96 players who tested positive Monday, also a record.

That makes 521 NFL players who have tested positive in December, 476 of them since Dec. 13. For context, 428 players went on the reserve/COVID list all of last season, according to Pelissero.

In an effort to reduce spread, the Carolina Panthers sent their players home Monday. The team currently has 14 players out, and coach Matt Rhule said several positions had been impacted.

“We brought guys in last week, and they had COVID,” Rhule said, according to ESPN. “They tested negative at their previous spot and had COVID when they got here. It’s kind of a unique puzzle.

“But yes, we’re exploring any and all options to make sure we have a full team that can go play Sunday as well as we possibly can.”

Sun Bowl will happen after all

Washington State again has an opponent for the Sun Bowl on Friday, as Central Michigan has been added to the game.

Both teams had lost their opponents for their bowl games due to COVID-19 issues. The Cougars were supposed to play Miami in the Sun Bowl, but the Hurricanes withdrew. The Chippewas, meanwhile, were supposed to play Boise State in the Arizona Bowl before the Broncos withdrew Monday.

DEC. 26

Two college football bowl games canceled; third in jeopardy

Both the Fenway Bowl between Virginia and SMU and the Military Bowl between Boston College and East Carolina have been canceled due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

That brings the AAC’s canceled bowl tally to three out of a possible seven games (this weekend’s Hawaii Bowl between Hawaii and Memphis was also canceled.)

The Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl is also in jeopardy after the Miami Hurricanes announced Sunday night that they would need to withdraw from the New Year’s Eve game because of COVID-19 protocols.

That leaves the Washington State Cougars (7-5) searching for a new opponent for Friday’s scheduled game in El Paso, Texas.

Travis Kelce out for Kansas City Chiefs in Week 16

Kansas City receiver Tyreek Hill was activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list Saturday, but Pro-Bowl tight end Kelce, who tested positive Monday, did not clear protocols Sunday morning and is out for the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Chiefs have six players out due to protocols, including kicker Harrison Butker and punter Tommy Townsend.

The team signed Elliott Fry as its kicker and promoted Townsend’s brother, Johnny, from its practice squad to punt against the Steelers.

Atlanta Hawks with 10 players out

Hawks forwards John Collins and Jalen Johnson have entered the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols. The Hawks now have 10 total players out, including starters Collins, Trae Young and Kevin Huerter.

Atlanta is planning to sign guard/forward Chaundee Brown Jr. — who was waived by the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday — to a 10-day hardship deal on Monday, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

DEC. 22

New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh tests positive 

The NFL added 38 players to the reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday, and players weren’t the only ones impacted.

Jets head coach Robert Saleh also tested positive and was added to the list as well.

Texas A&M withdraws from Gator Bowl

Due to a COVID outbreak that has left Texas A&M without enough players, the Aggies won’t play in the Gator Bowl, according to multiple reports.

Wake Forest is left without an opponent for the Dec. 31 game, and while the bowl is seeking a replacement team, that would likely require another team dropping out of a different bowl.

A&M will not receive a $5.35 million payout it would’ve earned for playing in the game, per Sports Illustrated.

Two Alabama football coaches test positive

Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien and offensive line coach Doug Marrone have both tested positive for COVID-19, the school announced.

Both are expected to be back in time for the Tide’s College Football Playoff semifinal game on Dec. 31 against Cincinnati, according to ESPN.

According to a statement from Alabama, O’Brien and Marrone, “have very mild symptoms and are home isolating while following all appropriate guidelines.”

Saban said on Monday that his team has reintroduced COVID protocols from a year ago, requiring masks indoors and social distancing during meetings.

COVID potentially impacting College Football Playoff

The Michigan Wolverines have decided to get COVID-19 booster shots as a team on Wednesday, according to ESPN. Wolverines offensive lineman Anthony Stueber said the team has not had any issues with COVID, but is not taking any chances ahead of its national semifinal game against Georgia on Dec. 31.

“The booster’s out there now, we have a full team booster shot tomorrow, so that’ll be good,” Stueber said. “I think everyone understands the gravity of the situation, to have an outbreak now would be devastating to a lot of people. Understanding the concern there is a big thing, so we’ve taken the proper precautions there.”

Georgia, on the other hand, has had some concerning news this week, as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that quarterback JT Daniels and receiver George Pickens are among players who have been placed in COVID protocol.

With the news of COVID-19 potentially affecting the College Football Playoff, new policies have been announced with what will happen if teams involved in the playoff have an outbreak that prevents them from being able to take the field. Forfeitures, “no contest” declarations and rescheduling are all possibilities. 

NetsBlazers, RaptorsBulls postponed due to lack of available players

The Brooklyn Nets, who already had their games on Sunday and Tuesday postponed due to COVID protocols, also had their scheduled game against Portland on Thursday postponed.

The reason? They lack the required eight players needed to take the floor. According to ESPN, the Nets have 10 players in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, more than any other team. The list of players out includes all three Brooklyn stars — Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.

Wednesday’s game between the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls has also been postponed for the same reason.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said earlier this week that the league has no plans to follow the NHL’s lead and pause its season.

Brooklyn’s next game on the schedule is a Christmas Day contest against the Los Angeles Lakers.

DEC. 20

NHL to pause season starting Wednesday, Dec. 22

The NHL is shutting down facilities and putting a pin in the season on Wednesday, which is two days before the league’s regularly scheduled Christmas break, according to a report from ESPN.

Eleven teams have already shut down operations this week as the league deals with more than 15% of its players in COVID protocols. In the wake of the Omicron variant outbreak, the league has upped mandatory testing from every three days to daily, along with other stricter protocols.

One game is on the slate Tuesday night (Tampa Bay at Las Vegas), before the NHL stops action until December 26. Game action should resume on December 27.

Kelce among 51 NFL players to test positive

Superstar Chiefs TE Travis Kelce has been added to the reserve/COVID-19 list.

However, with the league’s new return-to-play protocols, the vaccinated Kelce could test out of the protocols and not miss Sunday’s game, per ESPN. Kicker Harrison Butker and cornerback Charvarius Ward also tested positive Monday.

A total of 51 players across the NFL tested positive, according to the league’s Monday transaction wire, including Los Angeles Chargers LB Joey Bosa, Detroit Lions QB Jared Goff and New England Patriots WR Kendrick Bourne.

Baker Mayfield still unavailable for Cleveland Browns

Despite having an extra few days, Mayfield was unable to test negative Monday and wasn’t activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list ahead of Monday’s game between the Browns and Las Vegas Raiders, per AP.

Originally scheduled for Saturday, the game was moved to Monday due to an influx of positive tests for the Browns. However, Mayfield and backup quarterback Case Keenum both didn’t clear protocols, meaning third-string QB Nick Mullens got the nod against Las Vegas.

The Browns were also without head coach Kevin Stefanski, per Mary Kay Cabot. Special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer served as the team’s head coach, and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt called plays. They have experience in those roles, having done so in last season’s playoffs when Stefanski was out due to COVID-19 for the team’s 48-37 wild-card win against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

DEC. 19

NBA postpones swath of games

Sunday’s game between the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers was postponed after the Cavs had five players test positive Sunday, according to the Associated Press.

Hawks guard Trae Young was also reportedly put in protocols.

In addition, the league announced that the next two games for the Brooklyn Nets would be postponed, impacting Sunday’s game against the Denver Nuggets and Tuesday’s game against the Washington Wizards.

The Philadelphia 76ers had their Sunday game against the New Orleans Pelicans postponed, as did the Orlando Magic for their Monday game at the Toronto Raptors.

Frank Vogel enters protocols

The Los Angeles Lakers will be without their head coach in Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bulls, as Vogel entered protocols.

Assistant coach David Fizdale, who has four years of head-coaching experience from the 2016-17 season to the 2019-20 season, will take over Vogel’s duties against the Bulls.

DEC. 17

Big changes to NFL Week 15 schedule

The news was fast-developing Friday, as the rising number of COVID-19 cases impacted the NFL schedule. First, the Raiders-Browns game originally scheduled for Saturday was moved to Monday night. 

This news was followed by eight more Browns players being added to the Reserve/COVID-19 list, one of whom was backup quarterback Case Keenum.

Two other matchups from Sunday’s NFL schedule were also postponed. The games between the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams and the Washington Football Team and Philadelphia Eagles will be played Tuesday night.

The Rams could have wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. for the matchup. After testing positive for COVID-19 after their Monday night win against the Cardinals, Beckham appeared to indicate that he has tested negative:

Anthony Edwards enters health and safety protocols

The Minnesota Timberwolves guard has become the latest NBA player to enter health and safety protocols, with the news coming Friday afternoon.

The Timberwolves are slated to face the Lakers on Friday.

UCLA Bruins pause men’s college basketball activities

Saturday’s game between No. 4 UCLA and North Carolina in Las Vegas has been canceled because of COVID-19 issues within the Bruins’ program. UNC will now play Kentucky after No. 15 Ohio State dropped out of the CBS Sports Classic earlier this week.

The news comes just days after the Bruins were forced to cancel a game against Alabama State on Wednesday. UCLA is officially on pause, with the status of upcoming games undetermined.

DEC. 16

NFL, players agree to updated COVID protocols

With the flurry of positive tests, the NFL Players Association agreed to adjusted protocols across the league.

Among other changes, masks are being required even for the vaccinated. Of note in the memo, the “return-to-participation requirements for those who have recovered from COVID-19” bears monitoring, which could mean a quicker return for players and coaches who are asymptomatic.

Depleted Brooklyn Nets sign Galloway

With nine players listed as “out” ahead of their game Thursday, the Nets confirmed the signing of Langston Galloway to a 10-day contract. 

Starters James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre’ Bembry are all in health and safety protocols, per the Associated Press, along with Bruce Brown, Paul Millsap, Jevon Carter and James Johnson.

DEC. 15

First Omicron case discovered in the NBA

The NBA’s recent outbreak of COVID-19 cases has produced the first case of the Omicron variant in the league, according to a report from Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Alvin Gentry tests positive for COVID-19

Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Sacramento Kings interim head coach Alvin Gentry tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday.

Former Kings guard Doug Christie will coach Wednesday’s game against the Washington Wizards.

Seven NFL teams now in enhanced protocols

Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Rams, Detroit Lions, Washington Football Team, Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings are all in enhanced COVID-19 protocols.

According to the league, enhanced protocols “require daily testing regardless of vaccination status, mandatory masking at team facilities and other stringent measures.” 

The mandates will force several teams to dive into their practice squad rosters.

Cleveland Browns add six players to reserve/COVID-19 list

QB Baker Mayfield headlines the six Browns players who were added to the NFL’s reserve list Wednesday.

A total of six active Browns players, including wide receiver Jarvis Landry, and a pair of practice-squad players were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday.

Although none of the Browns players have been ruled out for Week 15, head coach Kevin Stefanski has preached preparedness.

“We have seen through last season, and I have seen it this year, guys step up,” Stefanski said Tuesday via the team’s website. “That is what the NFL is about. You are without guys due to injury or otherwise, and guys step up. That is why we have a bunch of players on this team that we trust.”

Los Angeles Lakers cancel practice

Less than 48 hours after he carved up the Orlando Magic with 19 points and six steals, Talen Horton-Tucker tested positive for the virus, forcing the Lakers to cancel practice as they scramble for safety in their locker room. The next day, the team announced that both Dwight Howard and Malik Monk had entered protocols, and would be out for L.A’s Wednesday matchup against the Mavericks.

DEC. 14

Defending champs place star under health and safety protocols

Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo entered health and safety protocols Tuesday, and it was announced that he would not play Wednesday against Indiana.

The two-time MVP, who led the Bucks to the NBA championship this past summer, is averaging 27.0 points and 11.6 rebounds per game.

Brooklyn Nets hit hard

All-Star guard James Harden was among seven Nets players to enter health and safety protocols as of Tuesday evening, according to the NBA. He and Bruce Brown were the latest added, joining LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre’ Bembry, James Johnson and Jevon Carter, who were added to the injury report Tuesday morning amidst a COVID-19 outbreak in New York.

The seventh Net on the list was veteran power forward Paul Millsap, who was shelved Monday.

The Nets have been playing short-handed all season after Kyrie Irving refused to get vaccinated, making him unable to play home games because of New York City’s vaccine mandate. The team decided not to let him play solely in road games, though there have been rumblings that the team is softening its stance.

Chicago Bulls postpone games with 10 players on reserve list

The Bulls’ total number of players sidelined by the NBA’s health and safety protocol has now reached 10. Veteran big man Alize Johnson was the latest addition to the team’s reserve list, which includes Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Troy Brown Jr., Coby White, Javonte Green, Matt Thomas, Derrick Jones Jr., Ayo Dosunmu and Stanley Johnson.

Due to the team’s depleted roster, the NBA postponed Chicago’s next two matchups: Tuesday against Detroit and Thursday at Toronto.

NFL teams add 29 players to reserve/COVID-19 list

According to the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, 29 players were added to the reserve/COVID-19 lists around the league on Tuesday.

Kansas City Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones and Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey — who was already ruled out for the remainder of the season with an ankle injury — were among the major names included in Tuesday’s additions.

Jones and the Chiefs play Thursday this week, leaving his status very much up in the air.

Odell Beckham Jr. among nine Los Angeles Rams added to list; team shuts down training complex

Beckham joined eight Rams teammates on the reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday, bringing L.A.’s total to 13 players amid a recent outbreak.

Rams head coach Sean McVay said the team shut down its training complex in Thousand Oaks, California, and it will remain closed for at least two days. Prior to that, McVay said: “Without a doubt, we have never experienced anything of this magnitude as it relates to COVID. This is definitely something that’s been eye-opening.”

New York Knicks add another player to protocols

Quentin Grimes was the latest Knick forced into protocols ahead of the team’s primetime matchup with the Warriors. R.J. Barrett and Obi Toppin missed the game as well. The pair was sidelined for the squad’s weekend matchup vs. the Bucks.

DEC. 13

NFL requiring booster shots

The league announced that Tier 1 and Tier 2 staff who have previously received the vaccine must get a booster shot for the coronavirus by Dec. 27.

That would require coaches, front-office staff and team personnel, but not players, to get boosters. Despite players falling under the Tier 1 designation, the mandate doesn’t apply to them due to ongoing discussions with the NFL Players Association, per AP.

Several Charlotte Hornets remain sidelined

Despite being cleared to practice Monday, both Mason Plumlee and Jaden McDaniels were members of the Hornets’ COVID-19 list, as they remained sidelined during the team’s 120-96 loss to Dallas. Charlotte’s number of ineligible participants has certainly dwindled (it was at five, including LaMelo Ball, earlier in the month), but the Hornets remain one of the many teams hampered by the spread.

Pacers coach Rick Carlisle, Raptors team president Masai Ujiri, Celtics guard Josh Richardson and Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma have all tested positive within the past week as well.

NFL teams place 36 players on reserve/COVID-19 list

On Monday, teams across the NFL added 36 players to the reserve/COVID-19 list, the largest number of additions since the creation of the special designation a year ago, per NFL Network.

In all, 25 active players and 11 practice-squad players were placed on the list. 

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.

This is a developing story.

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