As NFL teams prepare for players to return later this year, team management must figure out how best to approach a season in which the coronavirus could hit the locker room at any time. Testing protocols and physical distancing will play a role in keeping players healthy, but no plan can fully insulate everyone involved from the ongoing pandemic.
Accordingly, teams like the Los Angeles Chargers and others might have to take additional steps to account for the possibility that key players could become unavailable at any time. Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians has suggested one approach for preventing teams from suddenly finding themselves without a quarterback: keeping the third-stringer isolated from the rest of the position group.
"Yes, that is one of the things I have been pondering in the last two or three weeks," Arians said on the Green Light Podcast with Chris Long. "As we set the protocols, and from what I am understanding is if you test positive, you are quarantined for two weeks. Now, if you have no symptoms, I don't know what that means … is it a false one? There is so much to learn and still explore with this thing. But I have thought about keeping the third quarterback on the roster out of the room. We have two guys that have been in our system … really sharp. So, I might have to quarantine a quarterback just in case of a quarantine."
In a normal year, most clubs would only carry two quarterbacks on the active roster with a third developing on the practice squad. That approach will likely change this season due to the pandemic, with teams fearful about allowing their third option to sign somewhere else at any time. The Chargers carried three signal-callers on the 53-man roster in 2019, and though longtime starter Philip Rivers departed for the Indianapolis Colts this offseason, the addition of first-round pick Justin Herbert suggests the team could again keep three passers on the active roster.
Whether the Chargers decide to "quarantine" that third quarterback remains to be seen. Tyrod Taylor has the inside track to start while Herbert will push for the job throughout the year. That leaves Easton Stick, a fifth-round selection from a year ago, as the presumptive third signal-caller.
Given how recently the team drafted him and the heightened need for a viable third option at the position, Stick looks well positioned to hold onto a roster spot. Last year, Stick's locker sat just a few spots away from Rivers' and Taylors', suggesting the Chargers wanted the rookie to absorb knowledge from the veteran. Perhaps they still plan to keep Stick close to the other quarterbacks for that reason, but isolating him from the rest of the team would substantially reduce the risk of all three becoming unavailable at the same time.
The Chargers and other clubs must make those determinations as well as other difficult choices in the coming weeks and months. While the NFL has mandated numerous health and safety protocols for the 2020 season, teams will have to figure out how to best navigate the treacherous post-coronavirus landscape.
-- Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH