Since last week, the NFL and NFLPA have had representatives in Nashville, investigating why the Tennessee Titans have by far the most positive COVID tests of any NFL team. The organization has had 22 positive tests among players and staff, and given the team’s inability to fall within the league-mandated two straight days with no positive tests without more positive tests coming up, the Titans’ Sunday game against the Bills is now in serious jeopardy. As are any more games the Titans are capable of playing this season.
When longtime Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky reported that multiple Titans players engaged in a private workout last week in violation of NFL protocol while the team’s COVID numbers were increasing, that should have made the blood of everybody in the NFL run cold. If you think about the worst scandals in NFL history — whether it’s BountyGate, or the Michael Vick dogfighting scandal, or the Paul Horning gambling scandal, or SpyGate — outside of BountyGate, there is no similar violation of NFL protocol that has the potential to threaten more people in and around the league. And when you add the contagion factor, and the fact that anyone in close contact with a player can catch the virus, it could be argued that this is the most disturbing and actionable offense in NFL history.
Worse than Gregg Williams telling his defensive players, “Kill the head, and the body will die?” Worse than the Patriots upsetting competitive balance with their various trickerations? Worse than the specter of gambling on a sport? Worse than the unspeakable acts against animals Vick supported?
When you break it down, yes. And when you then factor in the defiance of the players involved…
Guys just don’t work out for fun this is for their lively hood, their family, their opportunity. Say what you want but I’m standing up for my team always. https://t.co/wRmlIOT4ww
— Rodger Saffold (@Rodger_Saffold) October 7, 2020
…and the fact that the NFL is trying to balance on a tripwire with the coronavirus right now — never mind the rampant and severe health concerns — it becomes obvious that a severe message must be sent.
Longtime NFL insider Mike Freeman reveals that this is the drumbeat around the rest of the league.
I’m hearing from front office execs and coaches who think the Titans should be harshly penalized. One coach said they should lose two first round picks. “The NFL needs to send a message to all teams,” said one NFC team exec.
— mike freeman (@mikefreemanNFL) October 7, 2020
With all due respect, the loss of draft picks or cap space in future years does nothing to deter teams from going outside COVID protocols now. Even if the Titans were forced to forfeit games this season, there’s a likely scenario in which they’d be able to reach the postseason.
So, what’s the appropriate punishment that deters these actions without negatively affecting other teams that are staying within the rules?
Shut the Titans down for the rest of the season. As in, the Tennessee Titans’ 2020 season is over at 3-0. No more games, no playoffs, no meetings, no practices, nothing. Your season is over, guys, and you asked for it. Given the rampant positive tests, there’s no indication as to how or when the Titans would be able to play again anyway.
Of course, jettisoning one team out of a 32-team league in-season would create a logistical nightmare from a scheduling standpoint, but aren’t we there already? Didn’t the Steelers already have to move their Week 4 game with the Titans to Week 7? Didn’t the Ravens already have to move their Week 7 game with the Steelers to Week 8? Aren’t the Bills already in limbo right now, hoping against hope that this Titans team can string together enough negative tests to get back on the field? The Titans are scheduled to play the Texans on October 18. Anybody reading this think that game isn’t already on ice? What about any other opponent the Titans have on their schedule? How badly do you think it’s going to screw up the Steelers’ season if they have postpone the Titans game again?
No, the Titans have created this monster, and they should be the ones to pay for it with the end of their season. The NFL did just fine with 31 member clubs from 1999 (when the new Browns were created) through 2001 (before the Texans started up in 2002), and the NFL can do it again. Anything less than a death penalty for the Titans at this point is a toothless, futile, and potential dangerous exercise.