NFL teams with COVID-19 outbreaks among unvaccinated players may forfeit games this season


The Denver Broncos had to play without their quarterbacks in a game against the New Orleans Saints in November. Kendall Hinton (center) stepped in as quarterback. He’s normally a wide receiver but also played QB in college.

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

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COVID-19 outbreaks among unvaccinated NFL players this coming season could result in teams being hit with automatic losses and have huge implications for who makes it to the playoffs and the Super Bowl. That’s according to an NFL memo reportedly sent to all teams Thursday and first shared to social media by NFL Network reporter Tom Pelissero.

“If a game cannot be rescheduled within the current 18-week schedule and is cancelled due to a Covid outbreak among non-vaccinated players on one of the competing teams, the club with the outbreak will forfeit the contest,” the memo reads.

In addition to getting an automatic loss, the team may also be fined.

Representatives from the NFL didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. 

It’s less clear from the memo what happens in the event of an outbreak among vaccinated players, or some sort of mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated players.

“If a club cannot play due to a COVID spike in vaccinated individuals, we will attempt to minimize the competitive and economic burden on both participating teams,” the memo reads. 

The NFL has already announced it’s adding an 18th week to its league schedule this season, with each team playing a total of 17 regular, nonplayoff games for the first time. The memo emphasizes the league doesn’t anticipate adding a 19th week to accommodate rescheduling games.

The vaccine policy appears to be a way to force widespread vaccination of players without outright requiring it.

The previous season saw a number of odd, unprecedented scenarios due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most games were played in stadiums that were either empty or attended by just a few thousand socially distanced fans. Several games were rescheduled due to outbreaks, but none were canceled and no team was forced to forfeit.

However there were a few bizarre games and mismatches that might as well have been forfeits due to individual players being sidelined by outbreaks. Most notably, the Denver Broncos lost handily to the New Orleans Saints in a game in which all of the Broncos quarterbacks were prohibited from taking the field. A practice-squad player was elevated to play the role, and there were a smattering of direct snaps to running backs.

The strategy wasn’t successful and Denver lost 31-3. This year it seems teams may be forced to avoid such humiliation and just take the L automatically.

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