NFL COVID: Saints and Patriots fined over virus protocol violations, sources say

Sports

(NewsNation Now) — The NFL has fined the New Orleans Saints $500,000 and stripped them of a 2021 seventh-round draft pick for violating league COVID-19 protocols, a person with direct knowledge of the discipline told The Associated Press Sunday.

The New England Patriots were fined $350,000 for similar violations, the person said, speaking to the AP on condition of anonymity because neither the league nor the teams have announced the fines or loss of draft pick.

New Orleans was fined as a repeat offender; Sean Payton previously was docked $150,000 and the team $250,000 because the head coach failed to properly wear a face covering during a Week 2 game against the Raiders. The more recent issue with the Saints came after a Week 9 win over Tampa Bay when the team’s celebrations included players not wearing masks while in close proximity to one another. The celebrations were captured on video by some players and posted to social media.

New England, which had a mini-outbreak of COVID-19 earlier this season that included positive tests for quarterback Cam Newton and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, was fined for not following protocols at that time.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic caused major disruptions around the NFL all week, again calling into question the league’s plan to play a full schedule after several weeks that went relatively smoothly.

The Denver Broncos will be without their four quarterbacks when they host the Saints on Sunday. Starter Drew Lock, backup Brett Rypien and practice squad veteran Blake Bortles were deemed high-risk close contacts with No. 3 quarterback Jeff Driskel on Wednesday, the day before Driskel tested positive for COVID-19.

A person with direct knowledge of the situation said the four quarterbacks weren’t wearing their masks the whole time they were together as required by the league’s pandemic protocols. That person also spoke on condition of anonymity because neither the league nor the Broncos revealed that information.

The Baltimore Ravens have 20 players on the COVID-19 list, which is for players who’ve either tested positive for the virus or had close contact with an infected person. Baltimore had already disciplined an unidentified staff member for violating COVID-19 protocols, and the outbreak — the worst on any team this season — left the Ravens with three defensive linemen and one quarterback available for Tuesday night’s game at Pittsburgh.

That game originally was scheduled for Thanksgiving night, then moved to Sunday and moved again to Tuesday. It’s uncertain if it will be played then as well.

The Steelers placed starting running back James Conner on the COVID-19 list Saturday.

NewsNation asked the NFL about reports of a possible NFL playoff bubble amid the uptick in virus cases in the league. The NFL said it “can confirm there has been discussion of playoff teams moving into a hotel in their local market.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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