Forfeit was not an option; postponement does not hurt Hawks

Some players and fans are crying foul over the NFL’s decision to bump Seattle’s game to Tuesday as the Rams deal with a major COVID-19 outbreak.

The same is happening among the Raiders and Eagles, who had their games against COVID-riddled Cleveland and Washington postponed as well.

Is it inconvenient? A little. Is it worth crying about? Definitely not.

Here are the facts, which most complainers apparently do not understand:

First, the NFL stayed true to its July memo about how it would handle situations in which vaccinated teams had COVID trouble. The Rams are vaccinated, so people have no valid complaint about the NFL moving the game.

Second, if the Rams were made to forfeit, players on both teams would not have been paid. So players should not be upset, unless they really were willing to trade a paycheck for a win by forfeit.

The Hawks also will benefit from the extra time as their COVID victims, Tyler Lockett and Alex Collins, now have a better chance to play. And Seattle’s other banged-up players got a couple more days to rest up for what really is a playoff game for the Hawks.

While Pete Carroll bemoaned the turnaround time for the Week 16 game vs. Chicago, it actually is better than teams get for Thursday night games (four days between instead of three). And that is a home game for Seattle, which makes it even less of an inconvenience.

Did you get the memos?

A lot of annoyed people are focused on this part of that summer memo: “In light of the substantial roster flexibility in place for the 2021 season, absent medical considerations or government directives, games will not be postponed or rescheduled simply to avoid roster issues caused by injury or illness affecting multiple players, even within a position group.”

But the memo also said: “Postponements will only occur if required by government authorities, medical experts, or at the Commissioner’s discretion.”

And: “If a club cannot play due to a Covid spike in vaccinated individuals, we will attempt to minimize the competitive and economic burden on both participating teams.”

Commissioner Roger Goodell clearly thought the latter two statements superseded the former this week.

“The emergence of the Omicron variant is precisely the kind of change that warrants a flexible response,” he wrote in a new memo. “Based on medical advice, we have instituted additional protocols as well as revised testing protocols for reinstating players and staff who have tested positive. We have also considered whether certain games should be rescheduled in light of current conditions.”

The players’ union is taking heat from a lot of players — including K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner and Quandre Diggs — for agreeing to the postponements. Those guys wanted to play on schedule, but there’s no guarantee their opponents (Wright’s Raiders are playing the Browns) would be able to field the required 44 players. The union was just trying to save its players money.

From the NFL memo in July: “If a game is cancelled and cannot be rescheduled within the current 18-week schedule due to a Covid outbreak, neither team’s players will receive their weekly paragraph 5 salary.”

Seahawks fans certainly would have loved a forfeit by the Rams, but the July memo made it clear the vaccinated Rams were not a candidate for forfeit. They were just victims of the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

In lieu of that, if the Rams had enough to play, some Seattle fans would have been happy sacrificing Lockett and Collins for Jalen Ramsey, Von Miller and seven other defenders among the Rams’ 25 on COVID reserve.

But the NFL chose not to punish the Rams (and WFT and Browns) for being victims of Omicron. And no one should have a problem with that.

The Omicron effect

Omicron purportedly spreads as much as 70 times faster than Delta but is thought to be less severe.

Goodell said, “Our experience with the Omicron variant is fully consistent with this expectation – while more players and staff are testing positive, roughly two-thirds of those individuals are asymptomatic, most of the remaining individuals have only mild symptoms, and the virus appears to clear positive individuals more rapidly than was true with the Delta and other variants. In many respects, Omicron appears to be a very different illness from the one we first confronted in the spring of 2020.”

In keeping with that thought, the NFL is now going to forgo testing vaccinated players and make a move only if a guy shows symptoms. Teams will screen for symptoms every day but only “spot” test. The NFL also will rely on players to self-report any symptoms – as Lockett and Collins did to the Seahawks ahead of testing positive.

It remains to be seen how this new approach will affect the remainder of the season. The NFL obviously wants to avoid postponing more games and is willing to let asymptomatic positive players slip through the cracks — even though asymptomatic people can pass the virus along and it could spread a lot faster with Omicron.

As Goodell intimated, the NFL is hoping COVID has now basically turned into a very mild flu bug that won’t bother most vaccinated people for long. (Unvaccinated people remain subject to daily testing protocols and are clearly at risk for serious illness via any strain of the virus.)

The Seahawks had been testing twice a week, rather than the one time mandated by the league, so it will be interesting to see whether they stay a little stricter to remain one of the NFL’s most COVID-free franchises.  

Players now also can come off COVID reserve if they yield two negative tests in one day – as opposed to two negatives spaced 24 hours apart (which led to vaccinated Gerald Everett somehow missing two games earlier this season).

The Seahawks thus should get Lockett and Collins back, and the Rams probably will have most of their guys, too. That’s how it should be. So don’t cry about it.

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