When Bill Belichick was asked if Cam Newton being unvaccinated played any part in the veteran QB’s release on Tuesday, the Patriots head coach was quick to dismiss the idea.
“The number of players and coaches and staff members that have been infected by Covid in this training camp who have been vaccinated is a pretty high number, so I wouldn’t lose sight of that,” said Belichick.
But the bigger issue for NFL teams isn’t really about whether or not a player might get Covid. It’s about the different protocols in place for dealing with players depending on whether or not they are vaccinated.
Vaccinated or not, a player that tests positive will miss time. It’s what happens if a player is in contact with a positive case. Here’s a look at current protocols:
According to the protocols, a vaccinated player is not considered a “high-risk contact” – and therefore does not have to quarantine if exposed to a Covid case. An unvaccinated player, on the other hand, must quarantine if exposed to a case.
“Teams that have an unvaccinated quarterback will be at a competitive disadvantage this season,” said front office insider Mike Tannenbaum.
Among the number of players still unvaccinated, there are seven starting quarterbacks:
- Carson Wentz
- Dak Prescott
- Josh Allen
- Kirk Cousins
- Lamar Jackson
- Zach Wilson
- Aaron Rodgers
Already, Wentz has been affected. Wentz along with Colts center Ryan Kelly and receiver Zach Pascal were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday after coming in close contact with a team staff member who tested positive. Wentz, Kelly and Pascal can return to facility on the sixth day after the close contact if they have negative tests and remain asymptomatic.
Had they been vaccinated, they would not have missed any time.
So let’s say Colts backup QB Jacob Eason gets Covid. If he was in a meeting room with Wentz before he was infected, Wentz would again have to quarantine.
“It has to be a factor,” said Tannenbaum. “You can’t lose two quarterbacks within five days.”
So how do teams with unvaccinated quarterbacks approach the situation?
“With the QB, I think you start by making sure you have as many vaccinated people around him as possible, especially in the QB room,” said former Lions team president Tom Lewand. “Second, you probably have to go back to many of last year’s protocols and effectively keep your starter in as much of a bubble as possible. You also need to keep some separation in the room to prevent the Denver situation (when the Broncos last season were forced to start a practice squad receiver at quarterback), as well as considering a practice squad guy as a fourth.”
Colts GM Chris Ballard is dealing with these real-world issues now.
“There’s consequences to not being vaccinated,” Ballard said. “Do I think everybody should be vaccinated? Absolutely.”
Former Eagles team president Joe Banner preferred to address the issue by figuring out the best way to convince players to just get vaccinated.
“Most players are most influenced by respected team leaders and factual objective info,” said Banner. “Depending on the particular player and personality and relationships, you would pick from that kind of a menu to appeal to them. Probably start with teammates in most cases, a doctor or religious leader — and if appropriate use family members.”
There have been questions about how the NFLPA might react if a player were to be cut because he is unvaccinated. Banner still said he would consider the action.
“I wouldn’t hesitate to cut someone who doesn’t have a major role if I didn’t see much of a difference between them and next in line in these situations,” Banner said.
Of course, that’s not the case with a starting quarterback. Vaccine questions may not have been the reason Newton was cut, but the situation certainly creates an issue that must be addressed.