As the Eagles prepare to host the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday night, Inquirer Sports columnists Marcus Hayes and Mike Sielski will debate four issues facing the Eagles, today through Saturday.

Today’s issue: Should the Eagles rest their starters on Saturday?


On Dec. 22, one day after the Eagles had beaten a Washington Football Team left shorthanded by a raft of positive COVID-19 tests, I emailed Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer, and Brian McCarthy, a league spokesperson, to ask them a question: How many NFL coaches and players had been hospitalized this season because of COVID? McCarthy responded later that night.

“There’s been one player who was briefly hospitalized in November,” he said. “He returned to the club shortly thereafter.”

It’s important to keep that context in mind before freaking out about the news Monday that the Eagles had placed 12 players in the COVID protocol. Why? Because it’s easy to conflate the ramifications of those 12 positive COVID-19 tests for those 12 individuals and the ramifications for an NFL team. There’s COVID management in the real world, and there’s COVID management in the football world, and the standards in each are different. Is that proper? For our purposes, that doesn’t matter. It just is.

Is it possible one or more of those Eagles players will become gravely sick this week? Yes, it’s possible. But given that 95% of all NFL players are vaccinated and that the risk of serious illness to any of these players is relatively low, there’s nothing inappropriate about considering how this revelation will affect the Eagles ahead of their game Saturday night against the Cowboys. For instance, should this outbreak, such as it is, compel the Eagles to rest all their best players?

It absolutely should not.

Per the NFL’s updated COVID policies, the dozen Eagles will quarantine for five days but could still test out of the protocol before Saturday, provided they’re asymptomatic. As the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero noted, the sort of “spike” should be expected, because players will volunteer to be tested early each week so that they don’t miss playoff games. And the chances are decent that these 12 will be eligible to play against Dallas. Remember: Before the league shortened the quarantine period from 10 days to five, 23 Washington players tested positive ahead of that Dec. 21 game against the Eagles and couldn’t play. But 21 of them had no symptoms.

So if those 12 Eagles can suit up, they should suit up. Put aside that the team has won seven of its last nine games and can improve its postseason positioning if it beats the Cowboys. Because those 12 Eagles will be quarantined — and those 12 Eagles include Jason Kelce, Fletcher Cox, Dallas Goedert, and Rodney McLeod — they won’t be able to practice this week. That means that if they don’t play against Dallas, they would have no on-field activity at all until next Monday. That would be a two-week layoff between games, without the usual practice routine and reps.

In the football world, rust is the greater risk. Play them.