How the NFL’s new COVID-19 policies affect the Eagles-Washington game
The rule changes will give the Washington Football Team a chance to regain more players currently quarantining before Sunday’s game.
» UPDATE: Sunday’s Eagles-Washington game has been postponed until Tuesday, a source says
The NFL implemented a handful of new health and safety policies Thursday in an effort to slow the concerning coronavirus outbreaks affecting several teams, including the one the Eagles will play this Sunday.
With roughly a third of the Washington Football Team’s roster on the reserve/COVID-19 list and a few other teams dealing with similar clusters of positive tests, the league announced new guidelines for teams to follow effective immediately.
The most important changes come in how players can “test out” of the COVID-19 protocols, giving more opportunities for vaccinated players who are asymptomatic to get cleared for g
ames. NFL chief medical officer Allen Sills told reporters Wednesday that roughly two-thirds of the players recently placed on the COVID-19 list are asymptomatic and that many others have mild symptoms.
» READ MORE: Washington Football Team quarterback Taylor Heinicke joins COVID-19 list ahead of Eagles game Sunday
There are plenty of unknowns about the omicron variant, but early reports indicate it appears to spread more quickly but produce less severe disease than previous strains.
The changes to the “testing out” protocols are expected to allow players to return from quarantine sooner, according to several media reports citing a call with Sills. The new rules will allow asymptomatic players, even those with a positive test, to return as long as they’re not considered contagious based on recent scientific studies.
Most players missed roughly 10 days when placed on the COVID-19 list this season, but the expectation is for that number to shrink with the new policies in place.
“Based on expert advice, we will adjust the return-to-participation requirements for those who have recovered from COVID-19,” an NFL statement read. “All of these changes are grounded in our data and science-backed approach, with safety our number-one goal for the entire NFL community.”
The rule changes will give Washington a chance to regain more players currently quarantining before Sunday’s game against the Eagles. Its active roster is down to 40 available players and missing a handful of impact starters, including defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis, edge rusher Montez Sweat, and cornerback Kendall Fuller.
Washington also has backup quarterback Kyle Allen on the COVID-19 list and is down to its fifth-string center partially because of injuries and partially because backups Tyler Larsen and Keith Ismael were put on the COVID-19 list Thursday.
Regardless of who is playing, multiple Eagles players emphasized the importance of avoiding the urge to underestimate the reserves Washington may have to field.
“For me, there’s always going to be 11 players out there,” Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert said. “I don’t look at players too crazily and I just focus on film study. I just want to look at the overall picture. Really, it’s not that big of a deal, they’re going to have 11 guys out there, they’re going to be in the same positions. They’re all capable of doing things.”
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Linebacker Alex Singleton said his experience as a guy on the roster bubble getting snaps for the first time has been instructive in how he views the possibility of playing against Washington’s reserves.
“The scariest guy is that next guy waiting,” Singleton said. “You can prepare, you can watch a guy play for two or three years on film, you can learn a lot about that guy. When you have a guy that everyone thinks is just some player off the street, but usually they’ve been in the building, they’ve been around the NFL and it’s a guy that’s hungry to play. Those are the guys, you just give them an opportunity, usually they show a spark.”
The rule changes will also require players and staff to wear masks in the team facility regardless of vaccination status and will require teams to hold meetings either in their indoor practice bubbles, outdoors, or virtually.
The switch back to virtual meetings will be a transition for the Eagles, but the masking indoors was something the players agreed to do earlier this week in an effort to avoid having an outbreak.
“We’re trying to get ahead of it right now,” cornerback Darius Slay said Wednesday. “We’re just wearing masks, we’re not obligated to, but as a team we kind of decided to do that to be on the safe side and kind of get ahead of it. It’s an important time.
“This week sure opened a lot of guys’ eyes. A lot of guys are going down, so we kind of as a group said, ‘Let’s put some masks on.’”
In fact an autograph appearance for Slay and cornerback Steven Nelson previously scheduled for Saturday in Langhorne was postponed, with the collectibles store citing a request to do so “due to recent COVID cases among the NFL.”
Hurts limited in practice
Jalen Hurts was questionable for the second consecutive practice Thursday, leaving his status for Sunday’s game still in question. The quarterback participated in drills during the portion of practice open to the media, but none of the quarterbacks were asked to move much in that time.
At one point in the early part of practice, backup quarterbacks Gardner Minshew and Reid Sinnett jogged on the field whereas Hurts walked, but there wasn’t much to note otherwise.
Jordan Howard (knee), Miles Sanders (ankle), and Patrick Johnson (back) were also limited Thursday.