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Two sources familiar with a joint NFL and NFLPA investigation into the recent COVID-19 outbreak within the Tennessee Titans have told Yahoo Sports the franchise is expected to face some form of penalties stemming from safety protocol violations already uncovered during an ongoing review.
One source said league sanctions against the Titans were likely “not a matter of if, but when and how severe” and that the NFL and union jointly believe the franchise violated COVID-19 safety protocols before and during the team’s Week 4 emergency bye, which ultimately postponed a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The sources declined to share specific findings from the joint investigation, but said the Titans’ adherence to the use of Personal Protective Equipment and Kinexon SafeTag devices — which are used for contact tracing — has been a focal point. Both sources also confirmed the league and union are investigating whether Titans players organized an unauthorized workout during the emergency bye week, after being told specifically by the league office not to engage in any in-person activities during a shutdown of team facilities.
Two general managers also told Yahoo Sports that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell appeared to make a pointed example of the Titans during at least part of Monday’s conference call with head coaches and GMs. According to the GMs, the call took time to drill down on a photo “slideshow” that featured different scenarios in which franchises had violated mandated safety protocols. The GMs said a portion of the slides showed Titans players congregating inside the team’s facility without proper PPE. Photos of a charity event hosted by Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller were also part of the slides. ESPN previously reported that Waller and nine teammates were fined a total of $165,000 for violating safety protocols during the gathering.
Both general managers said following some of the information shared in the call, they were adamantly in favor of the NFL levying significant punishments against franchises found to be violating COVID-19 protocols.
“I absolutely hope [offending] teams are hit hard, especially if they are just outright disregarding things,” one GM said. “If you’re blatantly ignoring what you’re supposed to be doing, you deserve to get hit hard.”
Following that call on Monday, the NFL issued a memo from Goodell to teams warning that severe penalties would now be in play if the actions of franchises contribute to COVID-19 outbreaks inside their buildings — particularly if those outbreaks lead to further disruption of games. To underscore the seriousness of that point, the NFL instituted a league-wide video monitoring system that would be aimed at strict compliance when it comes to the use of PPE inside team facilities and during team travel.
“Protocol violations that result in virus spread requiring adjustments to the schedule or otherwise impacting other teams will result in additional financial and competitive discipline, including the adjustment or loss of draft choices or even the forfeit of a game,” Goodell wrote.
That’s a troubling passage for the Titans, considering that very scenario could now be in play for the team. Two more players tested positive for COVID-19 coming out of Tuesday, resulting in a continued shutdown of the team’s facilities. Tennessee could now be in danger of having its Week 5 game against the Buffalo Bills postponed — requiring either another schedule shuffling or, per Goodell’s memo, a forfeiture of the game. The Titans have now had 21 positive tests since Sept. 24, including 11 players.
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