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MMQB: Cam Newton to New England; Team Doctors Discuss COVID-19 Spread; More

What Norv Turner, Cam Newton’s last full-time offensive coordinator, told Bill Belichick about the former MVP. Plus, two former NFL team doctors talk about disease spread in an NFL locker room, we remember our friend Don Banks and much more.

Cam Newton had told people over the last few months that he wasn’t really interested in going somewhere as a backup, nor did he feel he was at the juncture of his career where he’d want to be in a mentoring role for a younger quarterback. He’d also demonstrated he was willing to wait out the right situation.

That situation presented itself over the last few days.

Cam Newton’s a Patriot, and that’s a nuclear bomb for a Sunday night in June.

Here’s what I know—Bill Belichick and a number of New England offensive assistants called around on Newton, and the coaches who’ve worked with Newton the last few years really like him. I also know that Belichick has always had an affinity for players he has trouble defending, and the former NFL MVP is 100% that. Cam is 2–0 against New England, and 41-of-57 for 525 yards, six touchdowns and a single pick in those games.

In fact, all this made so much sense in plain sight that a couple days ago, Newton’s last full-time coordinator in Charlotte, Norv Turner, was asked by a friend where Cam would land, and Turner matter-of-factly answered, “Oh, he’s going to New England.” The ex-Panther play-caller didn’t actually know that was about to happen. But he figured it sure could.

Especially since he was one of the coaches Belichick called for a reference on Newton, with Turner offering a strong recommendation to the New England coach a couple months back.

“My whole deal is, when Cam was healthy, and we were there with him [in 2018], we were 6–2,” Turner said last night. “Just look at the tape—played his ass off. His issue was more health than anything else, and from what I understand, I don’t think these are health issues that he can’t overcome. He’s had the time off now. I think he’ll be great.”

And what does this mean for the Patriots? The first two things I thought of were fairly straightforward. First, as much as they may like Jarrett Stidham, there was enough uncertainty there that they weren’t just going to hand him Tom Brady’s old job, otherwise they’d have at least given him a run unopposed early in camp. Second, in the words of another coach who knows the people here well, “Bill was never punting on this season.”

So Newton’s there on a one-year deal, playing for a team that entered the weekend with less than $1 million in cap space, and I’d say it’s a fair bet that if he’s on the Patriots roster come September 13, it’ll be as the team’s starter. Also, obviously, this has huge potential to be the kind of win-win that past Belichick signings like Randy Moss and Darrelle Revis were.

“I think it’ll be really good for Cam,” said Turner. “And I think it’ll be good for the Patriots.”

And potentially bad for everyone who closed the book on the dynasty after Brady left.

I don’t know how this is all going to play out. What I do know is it’ll be worth watching.

SI FANTASY: Cam Newton's value in New England



Well, as you might imagine, we had to call an audible to top my next-to-last MMQB before I go on my annual vacation down to Nantucket, and we’ve got plenty to get through. In this week’s edition …

• A tribute to our ex-co-worker Don Banks, from one of his best friends.

• An opportunity for the league to refresh its pipeline of minority coaches.

• Kyler Murray’s Cardinals camp, co-starring DeAndre Hopkins.

• Where both Tom Brady and Malcolm Jenkins erred this week.

And we’re starting, now that we have the Newton news taken care of, with a look ahead at the NFL summer. Specifically, how practical the COVID-19 guidelines the league laid out really are, with a couple ex-team docs to help us understand the logistics.


If you want to know how quickly a virus can spread within an NFL team, and how powerless a team can be to stop it, ex-Patriots team doctor Thomas Gill has a story for you.

He doesn’t remember exactly what it was in January 2007, he just recalls that something ripped through the New England locker room the week after the team upended the top-seeded Chargers in San Diego. So ahead of a trip to Indianapolis for the AFC title game, the doctors and trainers were managing the growing issue, and doing the best they could.

And if you want to believe some old legends about that Sunday afternoon, that even included fighting off some subterfuge coming from the opposition.

“The conspiracy theory—and this is all hearsay, I have no evidence—but everyone said [then Colts president] Bill Polian knew that we had a problem with the flu,” Gill said, laughing about it now. “There were a lot of guys that had been sick and were coming back from injury, and they said he thought if they kept the dome warm we’d get dehydrated. And I’ll be honest, we had a ton of guys cramping up. We were so good at hydrating and all that. We had more guys cramping up and getting dehydrated, it was so darn hot in that dome.

“I remember Rosey Colvin having a real problem. I do remember that was an issue. think I set a record for starting IVs that day, the number of guys cramping up and going down.”

You’ve probably heard the rest of that one. The Patriots built a 21–3 lead, led 21–6 at the break, and then Peyton Manning and the Colts came roaring back in the second half, to get the vaunted Patriots Monkey off their backs. Long story short, New England ran out of gas late, the Colts won 38–34, and Manning had his first championship two weeks later.

But this isn’t about that old rivalry, or even whether Polian did anything wrong.

It’s about how fast a problem like that can move through a football team, even one as drilled down on details as Belichick’s Patriots, and how little a team can do to stop it. In fact, New England dealt with it again last year, when they had to dispatch a second plane to their game in Houston, to fly their sick guys there separate from their healthy ones.

“Whenever somebody got the flu, got a respiratory bug, got diarrhea, an infectious problem, a gastroenteritis problem, we sent them home immediately,” Gill said. “And we would see them, from a medical perspective. But we sent them out of there, they weren’t allowed back in the locker room until they got better. It was probably 20 years ago now, when we didn’t have that protocol, it would go through the locker room very, very quickly.

“And so I think that’s pretty standard around the league [now]. I’ve been around plenty of teams that have literally lost six, seven, eight people at a time, for at least four or five days, because of the flu.”

You can probably imagine why Gill and I were discussing this topic the other day.


Let’s start here: COVID-19 didn’t wait until training camp to hit the NFL. Star players such as Von Miller and Zeke Elliott tested positive earlier in the offseason, and we know at least a third of the league’s 32 teams have had cases. This, of course, is before any team has had a single player—save for the guys who are rehabbing—back in the practice facility.

So mapping out what’s ahead starts with the acknowledgment that the coronavirus making a dent in the 2020 season is close to a fait accompli.

“Six weeks ago, I would’ve bet anyone any amount of money that every team will have it by the end of the season,” said Dr. David Chao, the Chargers team physician from 1996–2013. “I’ll make 32 individual bets, and I’ll win 32 of them. Everyone will have a player or a coach by the end of the season. At this point, I might move it up: By Week 1, there’s going to be a player or a coach on every team. We’re at about 10 right now. And players haven’t reported yet. When they report on the 28th, it’s gonna be numbers, numbers, numbers.

“I think it might be 32 out of the 32 then. It’ll be the lucky team that doesn’t have someone. Why? Because 90 [players] are coming in from all parts of the country, you have 25 coaches coming in from all parts of the country, and other team personnel as well. It’s inevitable.”

And if anyone in the NFL needed that driven home, what’s going on in college football has done that for them—Clemson’s reported 37 players testing positive, LSU quarantined 30 of its players and Texas announced it had 13 positive tests among football players, and those are just schools that chose to go public with the numbers.

These programs, by the way, have been back on campus for less than a month.

“The first thought I had was it’s probably mimicking the cities in which those players live,” said Gill, the Pats’ team doc from 1998–2014. “The South is having a huge uptick right now. It’s actually pretty remarkable, if you compare New York, Boston, which were the hotbeds early. I personally thought once warm weather came, it’d be the same thing that happens with a regular flu virus, there’d be a lot less cases. And I figured it’d especially that way in the South.…

“Now the good news on that, the data has pointed to the fact that when you do get it as a younger healthy person, it’s much less severe; there are much fewer hospitalizations, certainly less deaths. So if there is a silver lining, that’s what it is. There’s an uptick in the younger groups, not the older groups.”

To be sure, neither doctor is saying that this means football season is doomed.

Just like I badly want there to be a football season, I got the feeling that these guys want there to be a football season too. But the reality, at this point, is that over the last couple weeks the challenges looming for the NFL have become more complicated, with the virus surging in places like Florida and Texas, where so many players live in the offseason.

That’s why the time seemed right this week to dive into how this will work with a couple of guys who understand both medicine and the dynamics and challenges that NFL teams face. After talking to Gill and Chao, I was able to come away with a few conclusions.

The first key will be keeping COVID out. That seems self-explanatory. But the truth is that when the virus enters the building, the team loses control. Which is plenty reason for teams to be vigilant on who they’re letting in.

“The only way this can work, to be honest with you, you have to head it off before a player with COVID comes in the facility,” Gill said. “So it starts with testing.… Test 14 days prior to camp, and then theoretically, the player needs to self-quarantine from then until they come in, because you have that 14-day latency period, between when you might have it or not. And then you have to do the symptom check and you have to do the temperature check.

“So theoretically, if all that is in, and you prevent COVID from entering the building, then you can practice safely. But I think we’re fooling ourselves if we say, Well, if there’s someone who has COVID, we can keep other players safe on the field and in the locker room with these protocols. I don’t think that’s practical. Prevention is going to be everything.”

Creativity will be necessary. NFL coaches and players are creatures of habit and routine, and all of that will need to be shaken up to comply with the protocols the NFL laid out for camp in a nine-page memo a few weeks ago.

Will it be harder? Yes. Impossible? No. But norms will have to be broken, and schedules will probably look a lot different than they have in the past.

“The immediate solution might be where you have an offensive lineman next to a defensive lineman [in the locker room], and then another offensive lineman, and then spread it out by six feet,” Chao suggested. “Maybe from 8 to 9 a.m., I’m just making it up, is offensive locker room time, and that’s defensive position group meeting time. And then, maybe, from 9 to 9:30 is team meeting time, but it’s in the field house, or in the old San Diego facility, on folding chairs six feet apart with speakers on an auxiliary football field.

“And then maybe at 9:30 you flip, and it’s offensive meeting time and defensive locker room time. And by the way, the quarterbacks are gonna meet in the receiver room, so they can stay six feet apart. And the receivers are gonna meet in the O-line room so they can stay six feet apart. And the O-linemen are gonna meet in the team meeting room, so they can stay six feet apart. And if you don’t have that, maybe you go to the field house.”

All this will take resourcefulness, and a lot of masks. But it seems doable.

There’s some argument over how preventable spread would be on the field. For his part, Chao thinks by managing time players spend huddling or standing around together, the on-field risk can be cut down.

“We don’t have research on how much virus is spewed out when you tackle somebody,” he said. “And we may be surprised. I don’t know. But the current data suggests it’s viral load over time. Think of it this way: You have to be in the presence of a bunch of the virus to get it, it’s not like one particle gets you. It’s not like you go out into the sun for one minute and you get sunburned. It’s that you’re in the sun for a prolonged period of time.

“Now, are you in the sun at high noon, or at 8 a.m., or 5 p.m.? That makes a difference. Do you have sunscreen on? That makes a difference too. It’s about viral load, that’s how you get it. And this is why in some ways, the team environment at the facility is more dangerous than gameday, based on how typical teams are housed and meet and are in locker rooms.”

Gill, conversely, sees more risk in the unavoidable contact during practices and games.

“I gotta be honest, I just don’t see how you can mitigate the risk practicing football,” Gill said. “The whole reason to do masks is, if someone did have COVID and he coughs, the aerosolized virus sticks around for like a half hour, believe it or not, these micro-droplets. So it’s gonna be there, it’s gonna be in the atmosphere.”

There’s no argument that a special COVID-19 reserve list is needed. And that’s one both these docs were passionate about—and that’s as much as anything about encouraging players to report symptoms and take care of themselves in a sport that, culturally, has long encouraged players fighting through whatever they’re faced with.

Creating a short-term COVID IR would allow teams to replace sick players on the roster, without exposing those sick players to risking their livelihoods over it.

“Is there potential for abuse and people using it for an ankle sprain? Sure,” Gill said. “But there should be a 14-day IR for this year, where if someone tests positive or has symptoms, they immediately get put on that 14-day IR. Because what’s going to happen, you’re gonna have players worried about losing their jobs who aren’t going to report symptoms. And they’re gonna say, ‘Well, if I tell them I’m sick, then the guys pushing me for my job will be here, so I’m not going to tell anyone.’

“If you tell them, ‘Look, your job is guaranteed for the next 14 days, we’re going to put you on ice right now, but we don’t have to cut you,’ that would be the single best way to have medical staffs, teams and players really be up front. Protect the players, protect the team, protect the roster, that’s really something I feel pretty strongly about.”

Messaging to players and coaches will be important. For a ton of reasons, the bubble concept we’re seeing in the NBA isn’t feasible in the NFL. That means coaches and players are going to go home, come back to work and travel for games. That adds another layer of challenges for the teams—to convince their people, and in particular their players, to be judicious outside of the facility to best prevent bringing the virus into the facility.

How that message is delivered will be important.

“Instead of rules, rules, rules, rules, tell them, This is the goal, this is why you have to do X, Y and Z,” Chao said. “If you’re going out to dinner with your family, great, go sit on a patio, that’s relatively safe. Or if you’re going to a family birthday party, this is how to do it. Give them solutions. As opposed to giving them rules, rules, rules, I’d be getting their buy-in and explaining to them what’s important. And to stick to those principles when you’re outside the facility, because everyone wants what’s best for the team.

“I think that’s the most effective way. Treat them like adults. Treat them like men.… Part of it is telling them the truth, why we’re separating them. Because the players probably have the question—Well, I’m tackling somebody, so why are you worried about me wearing a mask or staying six feet apart? You have to explain to them why it’s important, so when they go home they can carry out the principles.”

Gill remained skeptical that’ll work.

“I think the older players will get it, I really do,” Gill said. “But younger players, especially right out of college—all you have to do is look at the beaches in South Florida, I just don’t think younger population is particularly worried about it. With all the education, you do the best you can, but the I think chance of that being effective is very minimal. … I think what you have to do is tell them, Listen, the problem is if you test positive, you’re not going to be able to play. That’s a more powerful deterrent.”

Herd immunity could be a factor. And I know this isn’t 100%—there’s still so much we don’t know about COVID-19. But I felt kinda stupid asking these guys about the premise that teams getting the virus early could be at an advantage later, and Gill responded, “It doesn’t sound stupid at all.”

“It’s like the kid who grows up and is never exposed to peanut butter,” Gill said. “When I was growing up, we ate peanut butter, and nobody had a peanut butter allergy. Now, kids are so protected, you aren’t exposing them to anything, and having them live in this hyper clean state. There’s more allergies, more peanut allergies, more asthma, because kids aren’t exposed to things early, they don’t develop immunity. It’s the same thing. …

“Older people, people with respiratory problems, I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about younger, healthy people. Exposing them to someone who might be an asymptomatic carrier, there’s a school of thought that this might help prevent them developing the immunity. If you have COVID going through some teams right now in a significant way, does that mean there’s a higher likelihood they’ll be immunologically protected later in the season? Sure. That’s just basic immunology.”

Chao agreed in part, but added the caveat that, “Immunity is not always binary, yes or no.… Immunity isn’t always absolute.”

The head athletic trainer is going to be important. Chao mentioned how vital ownership, upper football management and head coaches will be in this fight over the coming months. Gill, on the other hand, focused on the one person who figures to be the COVID gatekeeper for every team.

“Without a doubt, the most important guy in every building is gonna be the head athletic trainer. Period,” Gill said. “And the Patriots are lucky with Jim Whelan, he’s the best in the business. But they’re the ones. It’s like during training camp, when they have to make sure every player’s weighed before and after every practice to make sure they’re not losing too much water, they’re the ones that’ll be keeping track of everybody’s temperature, everybody’s symptoms, everybody’s distancing, everybody’s masks.

“One hundred percent, it’s the head athletic trainer. I don’t envy those guys. They had almost an unperformable job beforehand, it is gonna be a really huge challenge moving forward. At the end of the day, they’re the ones that are gonna have to enforce all the rules, nobody else.”


So that probably seems like a lot to digest, and it’s really only the start of it. Plus, things are going to change between now and the late July camp report date—we just aren’t sure how yet.

In simpler terms: Whatever’s happening in America COVID-wise will probably give you a pretty good idea of how manageable the virus will be for the NFL, once actual football is getting played.

“I didn’t expect to see this big uptick we’ve seen in the South,” Gill said. “I thought April, May, June, once we were trending in the right direction, I thought to myself, ‘This is good news for the NFL, I think there’s a good chance they’ll be able to do it.’ You’ve got the best medical people in the world working with the NFL. But the reality of this virus is, there’s no way to protect yourself against every possible thing. So I think there’s gonna be a problem.

“Let me put it this way—the NFL will mirror what’s going on in society at that time. That’s the best way to put it.”

And that means the league will have to continue to adjust as roadblocks surface, and in some cases try to forecast those roadblocks before they hit the pavement. One example would be in how they handle the preseason—Chao suggested the idea you cancel two weeks of games, but not necessarily the first two.

Instead, he said, you’d cancel Weeks 1 and 4, with the latter allowing for teams not to mix with one another for the two weeks leading into the opener, which on paper would both allow for teams to test travel and home stadium protocols in Weeks 2 and 3, and give themselves the best chance at having full roster going into September. And from there, you just hope things don’t get worse, with a second wave of COVID possible in-season.

“Way back in March, when everyone thought sports were done for a year, I said I’m more optimistic the NFL will start on time in Week 1 in September than I am of them finishing the season without issues, especially come December and January,” Chao said. “I’d stand by that. I think we’re gonna start on time, but how it goes nobody really knows. My fingers are crossed and I’m hopeful. But yeah, there are gonna be some outbreaks. The question is how you manage it.”

And this much we know—that will remain the question for some time to come.


"Donnie Brasco" (second from right) and Farmer (far right) had bit parts alongside Mark Wahlberg in the movie Invincible.

"Donnie Brasco" (second from right) and Farmer (far right) had bit parts alongside Mark Wahlberg in the movie Invincible.


It’s still hard for a lot of us to believe Don Banks is gone, and that’s because of how alive he always was while he was here. I can still remember my last conversation with him—I was driving up Route 128 near Boston, and he and I were talked over the phone about his new gig in Vegas—like it happened yesterday. And just on that call alone, it was so clear what we all knew when he passed away a few weeks later.

Don had so much more to give.

That especially went for his relationships with those closest to him. So when he was named the 2020 Dick McCann Award winner, which will gain Banks admission into the writer’s wing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I thought most of how happy his wife, Alissa, and his sons, Matt and Micah, must’ve been to see it. And that’s why, when I thought of how we should honor him in this space, on his old site for 16 years at SI, I figured we’d get someone close to him to do it.

Long-time Los Angeles Times football columnist Sam Farmer (last year’s McCann winner) was one of Banks’s oldest buddies on the NFL beat. I asked Sam on Thursday at 2:51 p.m. and he answered at 2:52: “I’d be honored to.” So here’s Farmer on Banks:

A year ago, Don Banks died in Canton.

Now, he’ll live forever there.

Don is winner of the 2020 Dick McCann Award for writing, meaning his name will be memorialized in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As sad as it is that he won’t be around to realize this honor, it’s a great and deserving tribute to a phenomenal reporter, incisive writer and loyal friend to so many.

Don and I were very close, so much so that our spouses referred to us as “road wives,” as we’d hang out together when we were in the same city covering training camps, games, the combine, the draft and owners meetings. We had a similar sense of humor. We knew all each other’s stories, yet still laughed in the retelling of them. We all have those types of friends.

If I needed to bounce a funny line off someone, I called Don. If he needed to brainstorm about a story, he’d call me. Even though we were competitors, we trusted each other with sensitive information, knowing that the other guy wouldn’t take that and use it to his advantage. Trust is in short supply these days.

People trusted Don. Coaches, general managers, players. He was unflinching in his storytelling, and didn’t aim to make his subjects happy. But he wrote it as he saw it, avoided taking cheap shots and was exceedingly honest and fair. If he made someone mad—and that happened from time to time—he didn’t shrink from them in the locker room. He’d go right back to them the next day and hear them out. Don showed up.

He was great at doing impersonations, and not the obvious ones a lot of people do. He did brief, spot-on impressions of Paul Tagliabue, [longtime NFL PR man] Greg Aiello and Denny Green. He did a perfect rendition of NFL writer John McClain’s smoky Texas drawl. I know Don mimicked me and the way I lean forward at the keyboard and purse my lips when I write, but he’d never do it for me. He’d get sheepish when I’d ask him to.

I’m convinced that Don’s ability to do those impersonations is related to his skills as a reporter and storyteller. He could pick up on the smallest of details, traits that would escape the notice of most people. He was like that with a story, too. He saw beyond the obvious.

Don and I would bicker like brothers, too. Once, when he was between full-time jobs, I let him share my Super Bowl hotel room with me in Houston. He needed those sound effects from his phone in order to sleep—the wind, the ocean, a babbling brook. By the end of the week, I wanted to toss the damned thing out the window.

Then, under intense deadline pressure at the game, he’d craft a beautiful story with a fully developed angle that none of the 5,000 other reporters had, a unique tale in a sea of sameness.

I was there when Don died, having received the 2019 McCann Award. My wife, Paige, and I were one floor above him in the Canton Courtyard. His wife, Alissa, texted me just before noon Sunday, the day after the enshrinement ceremony. Don was supposed to have landed in Boston, but Alissa hadn’t heard from him since the night before. That was highly unusual, as Don was always good about keeping in touch. He had died in his sleep.

Paige called the front desk, the manager went to check on Don’s room, and that terrible day unfolded from there.

But before he went to bed the night before, Don texted me about the ceremony: “Very cool, road wife. Very cool. Make sure you find time at some point to read my tweet. I was lavish with my praise and it was heartfelt! Proud and happy for you, old friend.”

Back at you, buddy.


Longtime Packers assistant Moss led the L.A. Wildcats to a 2–3 record before the XFL shut down operations.

Longtime Packers assistant Moss led the L.A. Wildcats to a 2–3 record before the XFL shut down operations.