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Titans Gathered for Secret Workout

Oh boy. The Tennessee Titans players apparently gathered for a secret workout at a Nashville-area high school last week, flouting NFL COVID protocols. The league told the team "no in-person meetings, workout or activities at the facility or elsewhere." Obviously, we don't know yet whether this workout was organized or even condoned by the coaching staff, or if it was all just the doing of the players, but you have to imagine the Titans will be punished severely. Given the continued outbreak and positive tests on the team, will they be punished to the point of forfeiting their game against Buffalo this week? That would be tremendously unfair to the teams that will be competing with Buffalo, whether that's the Patriots or teams competing with a possible AFC East champion Bills team for the No. 1 seed including Kansas City, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Indianapolis.

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59 comments, Last at 13 Oct 2020, 9:07am

1 Where's the source for this…

Where's the source for this one? On PFT it says the NFL is investigating if they did a secret workout, but no evidence yet.

2 Pittsburgh is the team…

Pittsburgh is the team getting screwed.

You can take the coach out of Foxborough, but you can't take the Foxborough out of the coach.

3 There is no extra point for…

There is no extra point for it, but partially on topic with this... the Patriots also got a positive test today from reigning DPOY Stephon Gilmore. 


5 Does it really matter if it…

Does it really matter if it was condoned by the coaching staff?  If this indeed happened, awarding forfeits until the Titans get their house in order would be an appropriate punishment.  The NFL should also retroactively award a forfeit to Pittsburgh for last week.

6 Condoned by staff

I think it does. If there is reasonable proof that none of the coaches knew about it until possibly after the fact, how could the NFL hold the Titans organization, coaches, etc. accountable? I'm sure that players text or call each other privately about loads of things, both related to football and not related to football. Since the Titans weren't meeting at the facility, there was ample opportunity for players to communicate where no staff would know about it/overhear/etc.

If only players knew and participated, fine each of them a game check, whatever that is for them, and donate to something coronavirus related. If staff knew, then fine each a sizable amount, proportionate to their knowledge/salary, dock the team a draft pick, etc.

7 If the players went and did…

If the players went and did this behind the backs of the coaches that is still a massive failure of leadership and responsibility on the part of the Titans organization and they absolutely should be held accountable.

And pretending that the players aren't also part of the organization is just... weird.

14 Players have a formally…

Players have a formally antagonistic relationship with the league and team front offices, so there is some justification for treating a player-led rebellion as different from a staff-led rebellion.

8 Let's translate this into …

Let's translate this into "non-COVID land." The analogy might get a little stretched (and... weird, I guess), so cut me some slack.

Supposing this is true, a big number of Titans players (there's at least 15 in pictures there) did something monumentally stupid to cost them their game availability. So... imagine they, I dunno, went out and did something criminal, and were put in prison through the game. If someone can think of a better analogy, please let me know. Going out joyriding and getting into an accident would make me sympathetic, even if it was dumb, so that didn't feel right. Maybe "if 15 of the Titans players were out partying and overslept the night of the game, and never showed up to the stadium"? Or showed up hung over or something?

What would the NFL do? Would it really make sense to say "oh, sorry the players you chose did something dumb, here, have a bunch of dispensations so you can still play." That doesn't really seem right to me. The team isn't that separate from the players, and when you're talking at least 25% of the team? That's kinda the point at which I say "nope, it's your own fault you can't play, you forfeit."

18 I would argue that…

I would argue that professional players don't fall into the same category as "student-athletes" do, where the Ballcoach more or less controls every aspect of the player's life.

Once a player leaves the facility, he is responsible for his conduct, not the "institution".  It's why teams aren't penalized when players fail drug tests.

If the Titans met on their own, which I tend to believe, that's on them. 

However, I'll wager that Vrabel, or the OC, or the quarterbacks coach, knew it was happening, whether or not they suggested it.

Whichever way it occured, I don't see any unfairness involved with declaring a forfeit if the Titans can't field a non-infected squad.

9 The big bone of contention…

The big bone of contention with me is with what the NFL communicated with the Titans about their games against the Steelers and Bills. If there was a possibility that the Titans would've had to play the Steelers without practicing, that's on the NFL for creating this situation. If that wasn't a possibility, than this is on the Titans. 

10 forfeit

Someone does something stupid during a pandemic, and breaches protocols.  Where's the news story there?  Happens everyday.

Sarcasm aside, I would hope that "forfeit" doesn't fall within the scope of applied penalties.  Not fair, from a competitive aspect, for all other teams (other than the one that receives the free W on the forfeit).

12 I mean, I get the "it's…

In reply to by jds

I mean, I get the "it's unfair!" aspect. But it's also "unfair" that the Chiefs got to play the Patriots with Brian Hoyer. Or that teams got to play the Jets last year without a quarterback. Or that teams got to play the Patriots a few years ago without Tom Brady. Small "unfair" bits happen all the time. This is just a bigger one.

I mean, if they go ahead and suspend all 15 of the players (which reportedly includes Tannehill) for even 1 week, how is that significantly different?

15 You showed up at the…

In reply to by jds

You showed up at the scheduled time and place for the game. Your opponent did not. What's unfair about receiving their forfeit?

30 One forfeit suggestion that…

In reply to by jds

One forfeit suggestion that has been floated is to give the Titans an L, but not give the Bills a W.

Somewhat of like the NCAA "vacated" games.

Technically, this would also give the Bills a chance to have a 16-game schedule, if the league insisted on it.

44 Well, for playoff games, you…

Well, for playoff games, you can simply make sure it gets rescheduled or give the compliant team a win; the rules can be different for regular season vs. playoffs, like they are with OT ties.

11 I think a heavy fine, or…

I think a heavy fine, or maybe draft picks would be a reasonable punishment, but I would be totally against forfeiting games.  As Aaron points out, that would have ripple effects that unfairly affect other teams.

19 Seems more like Titan's stupidity than unfairness

Mentally I reframe that argument as "how come you got lucky when your opponent did something stupid and we didn't?"  We don't really think of it as unfair that (sorry, Rivers) the Texans traded Hopkins for a bag of nonfunctional magic beans and hence screwed themselves over.  

If the Titans went for a banquet at SketchyRawSushi, and all got food poisoning, would the league grant them roster exemptions?

How about if the team was told beforehand that SketchyRawSuishi contained banned substances, and they went anyway?  How should the league punish that?

My issue with fines is that they are effectively meaningless - nobody is ever fined a large enough amount to exceed petty cash for an NFL franchise.  My issue with suspensions is twofold:  there's not a practical difference between suspending everyone that went to the secret meeting (if reports are true, that's more than half the starters) and a forfeit; and player suspensions exempt management from responsibility when they're the ones who need to be demonstrating leadership.

Finally, there's a point that I haven't seen made here yet:  the players jeopardized not just their health, but everyone they come in contact with.  Not only that, they have put the successful completion of the NFL season in jeopardy.  Fining them petty cash and telling them not to do that again doesn't seem like it will get that message across.

So no, forfeit away.  I could go either way on the Pittsburgh game.

23 Fines for players are…

Fines for players are absolutely not meaningless, though.

And suspensions are financial punishments as well, though - you don't get paid for games when you're suspended. I wouldn't have a problem with a forfeit + effective suspensions for all players involved (so the ones who did follow the rule still get paid).

20 Another option is to opt them out

If the players are not willing to live with the safety guidelines for opting into the season, opt them out.  Effectively they're suspended for the rest of the season without pay, and the Titans can sign replacements.  Doesn't affect management directly though.


22 I really like this idea. …

I really like this idea.  The players had the opportunity to opt out of the season if they didn't want to follow in-place protocols.  If they opt in and don't want to follow protocols, they should absolutely be opted out by the leagues.


21 In a weird kind of way, I…

In a weird kind of way, I hope a secret workout is exactly what happened and what caused the spread. If so, then there's still a chance the league protocols can work and we can have some reasonable semblance of a season.

I still think the Patriots playing just a few days after Cam tested positive was dumb, but these latest positive tests from the Titans were worrisome for the whole containment theory. The timing was just way off from what one would have expected (hospitals here use a "4x24 hours" after exposure, followed by a negative test, as proof m sufficient proof of not being infected).

27 Turns out Gilmore was a …

Turns out Gilmore was a "close contact" of Cam Newton's, by the NFL's standard. That's good, I guess. If the spread really does turn out to be limited to close contacts, then that makes it fairly easy to deal with outbreaks: Player A tests positive -> quarantine all close contacts of A.

Yes, that would in most cases result in a missed game for close contacts, but that's what the COVID/Reserved designation was always for: Players who had close contact with infected individuals, in addition to anyone testing positive.

The upside would be that the smart franchise would game the system by keeping "live" tabs on who would qualify as a close contact and thus prevent important players from crossing that threshold.

Sure, it's all just a continuous probability, but any reduction in contact between players and the awareness such a scheme would generate, is bound to make it harder for an outbreak to take hold.

33 Well, I mean, it would be…

Well, I mean, it would be good if they actually had quarantined close contacts of Cam and prevented them from playing. I had actually hoped that the NFL's contact tracing had determined there were no players who fell under the 'close contact' definition, which is why letting them play Monday night made sense. (Yes, the "close contact" definition is arbitrary, and it doesn't mean people are safe, but this is about risk mitigation not magic-wand prevention).

"The upside would be that the smart franchise would game the system by keeping "live" tabs on who would qualify as a close contact and thus prevent important players from crossing that threshold."

Yeah, I have to say, if I'm a smart franchise now, I'm keeping the best players on my team the hell away from each other, as much as possible. It's 2020, it's not like it's that difficult. Everyone else is having to deal with it too.

41 Yeah, that's my point - it's…

Yeah, that's my point - it's a bit insane. It's not crazy to imagine restricting close contacts among players to near-zero, especially if you take a bunch of precautions during active practice time/walkthroughs. Outside of actual walkthroughs, there's no reason you couldn't limit close contacts to "none."

I mean... why was Gilmore a close contact of Newton? It couldn't've just been because of practice/walkthroughs. First-team defenses don't even usually practice against first-team offenses.

edit: Holy crap, Gilmore had dinner with Newton? WTF? Literally the two most important players on the team. How could Belichick not go to them and say "look, guys, you two need to stay the hell away from each other. We can't have both of you catching something."

24 One option if they don't…

One option if they don't play Sunday could be to assign the Titans a loss/forfeit but not award the Bills a win.  TEN gets punished but BUF isn't directly rewarded.  Buffalo gets a bonus bye and catches KC on a short week, both advantages but their end of year position is determined by W-L PCT

25 Lack of sympathy

As a Pats fan that watched my team sacrifice a game on the alter of COVID-safety last week. Suspend all the players involved for the quarantine period. The Titans can fill out the roster with whomever they can come up with. It's palpably unfair to reschedule some games (like the Titans got) but to go ahead with others (Cheifs-Pats). Every player that breaks the rules (whatever they are) sits without pay until they can be quarantined back in - if the Titans (or others) lose 62-3 than so be it. The only other option is to effectively ignore COVID, which is going to get the league sued into oblivion by the PA.

36 The rest of the league…

In reply to by sbond101

The rest of the league noticed that your infected DB cosied up with the resigning SB MVP immediately post-game, so perhaps you shouldn't be casting stones.

47 Casting Stones

I'm not casting stones - I'm calling for equal justice. How is it fair that Tennessee gets it's game postponed, but the Pats have to play without their infected QB. I'm calling for making Tennessee either play with whomever is left or forfeit. I have no problems with what the NFL did to the Pats in a vacuum, maybe they should have been more rigorous and kept his close contacts out as well. But whatever the rules are it's BS that they have already been applied unequally.

54 So, now that the Patriots…

In reply to by sbond101

So, now that the Patriots/Broncos game has been pushed back a week, causing Denver and Miami to have to reschedule that game...are you of the opinion that that's BS and the Patriots should have to forfeit?

56 +1

I'm of the opinion that they should have had to forfeit or play with whatever rump of a team they could field. There is no way in which the present approach is equitable.

59 I think we all have to get…

In reply to by sbond101

I think we all have to get on-board, if not outright embrace, the fact that the 2020 season is not going to be equitable.  That's going to be the cost of having a football season.

The Patriots, Titans, etc, should not have the option of playing the game with "whatever rump of a team they could field".  Not when Byron Cowart and Stephon Gilmore practiced, played, and shared locker room space with the team within the last week.  We're fortunate that Patrick Mahomes didn't contract COVID Monday night.  Knowing what we know about COVID, allowing the games to go forward is irresponsible at best, criminal at worst.  Unless you mean filling up a squad with retired players, Canadian players, College guys who never made it, and weekend warriors who take their Saturday flag football league way too seriously.  But 1) the Union would frown upon that, and 2) that's certainly not an equitible solution either.

A forfeit would be preferable to replacement players, but would still be an inequitible solution for the same reason.  I'm OK with the forfeiture as an outcome, because again, I don't think an equitable solution exists.  However, with infection rates rising again in many parts of the U.S, there's a chance we'd be venturing into double-forfeits, and possibly weekends with no games at all, at least not the originally scheduled ones.

Short of pausing the season for a couple of weeks and re-emerging with a hard bubble in place, I think the NFL is probably taking the scheduling measures it needs to in order to complete a creditable season, if not an entirely equitable one.  I'm fairly certain every team is not going to play 16 games.  I can foresee, for example, a team like the Cowboys losing a playoff spot to the Eagles because the Cowboys had to play the Seahawks at full strength, while the Eagles got to play them with Wilson, Carson, Lockett, Metcalf, Adams, and Wagner missing the game with Covid symptoms.  And, yes, I can see forfeits, or non-forfeited cancellations, occuring if there are no alternatives to rescheduling.

On Election Day 2016, I said to my wife something to the effect that the next four years are going to be an interesting whimsical departure from the norm that will be looked at amusingly in the future (No need to comment -- in reality, I found few things amusing about it).  I feel the same way about the NFL in 2020.  It's going to be like the 1987 strike year, or the 1982 strike year that resulted in a kicker who kicked 20 field goals and went 16-19 on extra points being named MVP, where we had football to watch, but it was far from normal.

26 Remember, it’s just a game…

Remember, it’s just a game. Or, from the league’s perspective, an entertainment product. If the league insists on playing what is just an entertainment product during a pandemic, they need to do so with serious safeguards, not just lip service.

The players involved should be suspended, just as they would be if they used a preseason game to try to injure their opponent’s players through dirty hits. You break rules in a dangerous way to try to gain advantage? You sit N weeks.

... and if coaches were involved, they sit for >2N weeks. We all know where the power is in a player-coach situation.

Yes, it sucks for the Patriots if the Bills win by forfeit or play a bunch of third-stringers. Big whoop. There are more important things than football standings.

Edit: if it’s true they were not told that off-site gatherings were prohibited until after this workout session, then (1) the league is run by idiots, and (2) the team is run by idiots. The group needs to quarantine if there is any potential exposure. Covid doesn’t care if they weren’t technically breaking a regulation.

28 I trying to think through…

I trying to think through the economic cost of a forfeit.  Let's assume no gate, or an insignificant gate at a few stadiums, during 2020, so that doesn't matter one way or the other.  The big ticket is the TV revenue:  does the league/team receive fewer TV revenues if there's no game to broadcast?  I would assume so.

What about coach/player salaries?  If the game is forfeited, they'd still get paid, unless the forfeit came with a fine of one week's salary.  Which the league could justify for the players who broke the rules.  It seems a bit unfair to the players who didn't break the rules, but then again the contract the NFLPA signed allows Goodale to say "yes, that's fair" and fine away.  So he'd be capable of docking the entire team their paychecks, as long as he's willing to accept an appeal and then say "on second review, yes, it's still fair".

So I think we have a situation where a forfeit costs the league revenues and where they can recoup only some of the associated costs and only with bad PR.  Unless I'm missing something, expect great reluctance to issue any forfeits.

What this all highlights, of course, is that scheduling the season as if nothing will go wrong, with an intent to figure it out as we go along if problems arise, will only work if very few problems arise.  The Titans had lots of sick players, so their game got postponed.  NE and KC only had one sick player each, so they had to play, but a day late.  If the Titans are still sick, will PIT and BUF be treated the same, or differently?  If there are three more teams sick next week, will they and their opponents be treated like TEN and PIT, or NE and KC, or something else?  It's possible some yardstick could be developed re when to play and when not to, and I get the challenge of thinking through all the possible scenarios in advance.  But it sure seems like the league is setting themselves up to create precedents that they may not be able to apply consistently.


53 UPDATE: turns out players…

UPDATE: turns out players will not get paid if any games are forfeited.  That appears to be part of the agreement with the players' union prior to the start of the season, and a risk the players who chose not to opt out of this season accepted.  

That would seem to make the prospect of forfeitures much more real.  The league will still lost TV revenues, but they don't have to jump through the hoops of fines to recoup some losses on the cost side, as I originally speculated.

29 Now the word is that the…

Now the word is that the league memo didn't come out until Oct 1st, and the secret workout was Sep 30, i.e. the league can't punish beyond its past rules ex post facto.

I guess tomorrow will be the verdict; no new positives mean the Bills/Titans is on.

Postponing into Monday or Tuesday to ensure adequate practice time - my understanding is that the Titans facility still can't reopen until Saturday right now - gets interesting; it would mean that Chiefs/Bills would have to be pushed out of the Thursday spot.  Of course, did the league really want to make Mahomes play 3 games in 10 days in the first place?

45 The league memo came out on…

The league memo came out on the 30th, but the Titans had already been told they can't do in-person workouts, per Dan Graziano ( https://twitter.com/DanGrazianoESPN/status/1314232419705384961 ).

So, no, it's an organizational failure one way or the other. Either the players weren't told or it wasn't communicated strongly enough (or the players just don't listen to the coaches anyway).

48 Disobeying your coach and…

Disobeying your coach and breaking league protocols isn't the same. For one thing, only the latter allows the league to sanction the player. In the former case, the TEAM may be able to (but wouldn't want to in any meaningful way).

31 Hindsight is almost always…

Hindsight is almost always 20/20... but I really don't understand why the NFL didn't schedule in more bye weeks and more open weeks to re-schedule games to. This would remove a lot of stress from the teams. And even increase playing weeks.

It would also prevent a clusterfuck when too many games had to be rescheduled.


32 By booking the venue for the…

By booking the venue for the Super Bown for 4 consecutive Sundays, the league has implicitly done so.

The reports back around the time the schedule came out was that there were several contingency plans built into the schedule. Some of those are no longer of use - like all week 2 teams having the same bye week to enable that week to be moved and eliminating bye weeks and weeks 3 and 4 having zero divisional matchups to allow those two weeks to be discarded in the case a truncated season was a reality from the onset.

One contingency plan that could seemingly still come into play is moving one or two weeks of games wholesale to the end of the season. The owners were reported to prefer that model to moving games piecemeal to predefined "empty" weeks. A wholesale move would clearly be easier in terms of scheduling, but doesn't really do anything to address the issue of sporadic outbreaks here and there. Still, if the league were willing to move games to weeks 18 and 19, these weeks could still be used to host the patchwork of games that might be needed to be played.

And if a team needs to postpone more than 2 games (plus its bye-week), then that team isn't getting to 16 regular season games anyway and something more extreme would have to be considered.

43 From the article I think it…

From the article I think it is also interesting that the players may already not have been following mask or reporting protocols :

"National reports say the NFL is also looking at the Titans for violations of mask usage in their facility. ESPN has reported players may have failed to report symptoms and Shane Bowen, who appears to be the first case at the start of the outbreak, may have failed to report contact with a person with COVID-19."

This is a highly infectious disease with potential significant health effects even if you don't get it badly in the lungs (I suspect most athletes would not like long term fatigue for a start). We are getting better at treating it, and various sporting events have managed to work through it, hopefully this is a wake-up call caused by widespread failures to follow protocols and other teams (and players) can learn from this.

Maybe the NFLPA might realise that the league's offer to put the players into hotels for season long bubbles was a good idea too if people want to get paid for all the game (bubbles seem to have worked in many other sports, and events which have not had so much care have often had major problems - compare Djokovic's tennis tournament thing with the one the UK tennis authorities ran, for example).

Hoping to see the book thrown at certain coaches who ignore the mask protocols on sidelines too. If nothing else it sets a terrible example for anyone watching the game. As a side note, whilst I appreciate Andy Reid and others trying with the face shields, all the research I've seen says that face shields are useful to stop stuff getting in your face, but are remarkably ineffective at stopping stuff from your mouth getting out - it just aerosols out to the side, sometimes even travelling further accord to some fluid dynamics modelling... Medical staff in full PPE wear mask and face shield or goggles - the shield is to protect the eyes, mostly.

49 "I suspect most athletes…

"I suspect most athletes would not like long term fatigue for a start"


Small Sample Size Alert, but Ezekiel Elliott tested positive for COVID-19 back in June(?).  He is also currently having his worst season in the NFL.  Though I'm sure part of that has to do with the Cowboys trailing so often in their games.  He's also a bit more involved in the passing game than usual.

51 I wonder if the league has…

I wonder if the league has in its back pocket a plan to make the regular season pretty much pointless?  That would allow them to reschedule games / cancel games / etc without worrying too much about "fairness" (not that I think they'd worry about that too much, regardless).  The sole concerns would be:

1.  don't schedule games so close together you get enhanced risk of player injury / viloate the CBA

2.  get as many games on TV as possible

At the end of the day, the league could always use the regular season exclusively as a seeding tool for a full 32 team playoff bracket.  The top 2 teams in each conference would get a first round bye.  After 4 weeks, you go from 32 teams to the 2 Super Bowl contestants, take a week off and then pay the SB.  Basically a 6 week playoff period, as long as they don't have to deal with Covid-related cancellations or delays during the playoffs ...

55 Not sure why you would give…

Not sure why you would give the top four teams a bye in this situation. You have 32, a power of 2, to begin with, so that's straight up 4 rounds of single elimination to get to the SB. Giving four teams a bye would leave with 18 teams after one week, which is a really awkward number.

If the league wanted to reward teams for their regular season records--which, FWIW, is what I'd favor--a reasonable model would be for teams 17-32 to play in week 1, thus eliminating 8 teams, and teams 9-16 to play the week 1 winners in week 2, thus eliminating 8 more, leaving 16 teams for week 3, at which point you just have 3 rounds of single elim to get to the SB.

Hopefully it'll be moot, but it's anybody's guess as to how this is going to play out.