It might not be that extreme, but Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur admitted that he’s considered extra precautions to insulate his quarterbacks in an effort to protect them from the coronavirus and even possibly employing a “quarantine backup” who isn’t around the team as much.
“We’ve floated around that idea a little bit,” LaFleur told reporters on a Zoom call Sunday that served as the unofficial opening of training camp. “Have not made a decision on that at this point, but that’s certainly something that’s not out of the realm.”
The Packers have four quarterbacks on the roster: Rodgers and last year’s backup, Boyle, plus rookies Jordan Love (first-round pick) and Jalen Morton (undrafted free agent). Last season, the Packers kept just two quarterbacks on the active roster. Given the ramifications if a quarterback tests positive for the virus, it would seem almost a certainty that teams would keep more than two at the most important position in the game.
But how can the Packers prepare Love – or any rookie quarterback – without the benefit of an in-person offseason program that was wiped out and sans preseason games that were dumped?
“I think it’s definitely a challenge,” LaFleur said. “[Saturday], we had our first walk-through with those guys. That’s something that we’re going to take day by day and the message is we have to operate with urgency to get better every single day. But I mean, it definitely is going to be a work in progress.”
The Packers have four players on the COVID-19 reserve list: kicker Mason Crosby, tight end Jace Sternberger, defensive lineman Treyvon Hester and linebacker Greg Roberts. That means those players either tested positive or were in close contact with someone who did. They can return to the team after a series of negative tests. One player, receiver Devin Funchess, took the opt-out option for this season. General manager Brian Gutekunst said he was not aware of any other Packers who intended to opt out at this point.
Like all teams, the Packers must follow NFL and NFL Players Association-negotiated safety protocols while at team headquarters.
But what happens outside the building might be just as important.
“For us to accomplish the things we want to accomplish this season, guys are going to have to make the right choices when they leave the building,” Gutekunst said. “There’s no doubt about it. I’ve always believed football is the ultimate team game, and this year more so than ever. It’s going to be dependent on how each one of us, not just the players, but everybody in our building, makes good choices when they leave the building.
“At the same time, we’re going to have positive tests. This virus that we’re dealing with, we’re going to have that and it’s not going to be always just because someone gets it, [it's going to] be their fault. So, the dependability, the availability of players, the teams that do that and overcome that and rise to the challenge are going to be the ones who are left standing, fighting at the end. So, it’s a big part of what we’re trying to express to our entire organization. “
NFL players who contract the virus through what’s deemed "high-risk" activity away from team facilities can face team discipline and might be at risk of not being paid, according to the league's new protocol.
“If we’re going to have football played this year, it’s going to take a lot of self-discipline and a lot of self-accountability,” LaFleur said. “It’s not just our players; I mean, it starts with our staff – really anybody who comes in contact with our players, they have to be very mindful of what they’re doing outside of this building. So certainly we’re going to encourage our guys -- and if they choose to go out in public -- to mask up. We’re all in this sucker together, that’s for sure.”
LaFleur said the Packers want to make Lambeau Field “the safest place in Green Bay.”
“I know for me, personally, I just feel really good and safe about how we’re going about those things,” Gutekunst said. “It gives me a lot of confidence, and I hope that our players see that as they come in not only when they enter the building but about the changes we’ve made in the building and the different decisions Matt’s made about how we’re meeting. Certainly our cafeteria and how we feed our players has changed. There’s no doubt that some of those things will probably stay with us long after we get beyond this pandemic.”