The Eagles announced a positive COVID-19 test Thursday, and a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed it belongs to wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside. The team placed Arcega-Whiteside on the COVID-19 reserve list, along with defensive end Vinny Curry and running back Corey Clement, who are believed to have been close contacts of someone testing positive other than Arcega-Whiteside.
Wide receiver Deontay Burnett went on the practice squad COVID-19 reserve list as a close contact of Arcega-Whiteside, and wide receiver John Hightower was held out of practice because of his exposure to Arcega-Whiteside. Hightower was not placed on the reserve list. The news of Arcega-Whiteside’s positive test was first reported by the Inside the Birds podcast.
This is by far the most extensive coronavirus episode for the team, which is scheduled to visit the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, as the NFL grapples with a spike in cases. It is yet another obstacle for Arcega-Whiteside, a 2019 second-round pick whose career has fallen far short of expectations. Arcega-Whiteside was inactive for the Sunday loss to the Giants after playing only five snaps in the previous game against Dallas. He has two catches for 45 yards this season.
Curry, 32, has played in five games this season, starting only once. He has two sacks and has played 19% of the defensive snaps. Clement has played in all nine games and scored a touchdown on his only offensive snap against the Giants. He is averaging 14% of the offensive snaps.
Hightower is a fifth-round rookie who also has played in all nine games, with nine catches for 166 yards. He was playing most of the time earlier in the season, when other receivers were injured, but he got just 10 snaps vs. Dallas and three snaps against the Giants. The fact that he didn’t go on the reserve list means that Hightower was not deemed a high-risk, close contact of an infected player. Burnett has played in two games this season, catching three passes for 19 yards.
Marcus Epps, an Eagles safety, tested positive two weeks ago. He rejoined practice this week.
The Eagles’ news came one day after the NFL told teams that everyone will go into the league’s intensive protocols effective Saturday. Like much of the country, the NFL is seeing a pronounced rise in positive tests. The league said recently that 108 of its 270 positive tests this season have come in November.
This week’s opponent, Cleveland, has been in the intensive protocols the last two weeks, following the addition of fullback Andy Janovich and offensive lineman Chris Hubbard to the COVID reserve list. Right tackle Jack Conklin, kicker Cody Parkey, and long snapper Charley Hughlett have missed practice time, reportedly because of contact with a positive-test staffer. Hughlett has returned to action, and Conklin and Parkey are expected to play against the Eagles unless they test positive before Sunday.
The intensive protocols mean less time in common areas such as the locker room or weight room, and that all meetings are held virtually. Linebacker Alex Singleton said Thursday that he thinks the teams that deal best with the tighter restrictions will see that success translate onto the field.
“Last week was our first time,” he said, referring to the aftermath of Epps’ positive test. “I know there are some teams that have been doing it for weeks. Everybody as an individual, but then as an organization … you’re going to take these next seven weeks, whether virtual or in-person as being just like being in the building, or you’re just going to take them … as kind of, stay at home, cook breakfast while you’re in a meeting and not really pay attention,” Singleton said.
“It’s up to every individual. I know I’m going to put my best hand forward. I even bought a desk last night so I can set up an actual kind of office space in my house so it’s more – I’m not just sitting on the couch. I want to have an office, my computer up. … Be as professional as I could in those situations.”
Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave signed here as a free agent from the Steelers in the offseason. Hargrave said Thursday that this has been a really different experience, the way the coronavirus has changed things. His sense of belonging is limited to the defensive line.
“I’m not sure I know everybody like I should know ‘em,” he said. “It definitely impacted just being real close with a lot of my teammates.”
Hargrave hesitated when asked if the odd situation affected his play.
“I ain’t gonna say. Well, it’s just tough. It’s something the whole league gotta deal with, so we’re just really making the best of the situation.”
Safety Jalen Mills said the medical staff and the rest of the organization “did a great job” when the Eagles were in the tighter protocols because of Epps. “Making sure everybody felt safe. I know I felt safe. As far as wearing masks, even having the Oakley shields on our face masks at practice, the virtual meetings, everything was really smooth.”
Mills said he thinks having just been in the protocols, “now we know what to look for, and how meetings will be run, how practice will be run, walk-throughs, different things like that. I don’t think there’s going to be any difficulty, as far as staying on the same page.”
Singleton, whose journey to the Eagles included three years in Canada with the Calgary Stampeders, seems to always find reasons to be upbeat. He pointed out that being able to play the season and interact virtually is a lot better than nothing.
“You talk to coaches, and even five or six years ago, this wouldn’t have been possible,” Singleton said. “If there was something going on, the season would’ve been canceled. So it’s awesome that we can do [Zoom interviews] with you guys. … It’s cool that everybody’s been able to adapt.”