It began as nothing more than a hypothetical solution to a hypothetical problem, kicked around in NFL circles over the summer.
With the league set to return amid a global pandemic, should teams isolate one of their quarterbacks from the rest of the position group to protect against potential COVID-19 exposure?
After all four of their quarterbacks were ruled out due to COVID-19 protocols, the Denver Broncos were left to start practice-squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton under center Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. He finished with one completion and two interceptions, and the Broncos lost, 31-3.
Veteran agent Mike McCartney, who publicly touted the notion of a “quarantine quarterback” this summer, said he has heard from several teams that are now revisiting the idea. And the tenor of those conversations has changed.
“Until something like what happened with the Broncos happens — when you’re talking about theory all the time — maybe it’s easy to take a conservative approach,” McCartney told USA TODAY Sports on Monday. “But after what happened (Sunday), I think there are several teams that are at least going to have strong conversations about it now.”
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Two of McCartney’s clients have served in the “quarantine quarterback” role so far this season. Veteran Josh McCown spent a chunk of the season on the Eagles’ practice squad while still living at his home in Texas, working out on his own and attending meetings virtually. Trevor Siemian filled a similar role for the Tennessee Titans after their outbreak. (McCown and Siemian have since signed with the Houston Texans and New Orleans Saints, respectively.)
Meanwhile, in Buffalo, rookie Jake Fromm has been practicing separately from the rest of the team, throwing to a few practice-squad receivers in private sessions after Bills practices. He is also sequestered in meetings to ensure that he would not qualify as a “close contact” with the team’s other quarterbacks, Bills coach Sean McDermott said.
“Jake and our staff have just done a phenomenal job of executing that,” McDermott told reporters Monday. “And (the Broncos’ situation) is honestly why we’ve done it. It could happen to anyone. It could happen to us, or any position for that matter.”
Titans coach Mike Vrabel said Monday that recently signed quarterback DeShone Kizer will be protected in a similar way moving forward.
NFL teams typically carry two or three quarterbacks on their active rosters, and perhaps one more on the practice squad. The league expanded practice squads to 16 players this season to give teams more flexibility amid COVID-19, which is one of the reasons why people like McCartney view it as a no-brainer — especially for playoff-hopeful teams.
“If there’s five weeks, six weeks left in the season, and you have hopes (of making) the playoffs, why would you take the risk?” he said. “… To me, it’s not that difficult to carve out one spot to make sure you’re protected, and leave that player off-site.”
Head coaches, however, largely remain split on whether to isolate a quarterback — even after Denver’s nightmare scenario came to fruition over the weekend.
Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich and Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin are among those who don’t think such steps are needed as long as their players follow the league’s COVID-19 protocols. Broncos starter Drew Lock acknowledged in a statement that he and two other quarterbacks “let our masking slip” while attending a meeting last Wednesday with teammate Jeff Driskel, who tested positive the next day. The NFL requires that players who are deemed high-risk close contacts with an infected individual be placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, in addition to those who test positive themselves.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, meanwhile, said the question of quarantining a quarterback is illustrative of the larger balance that teams must strike between safety and preparation.
“We’ll continue to do what we feel like is best and safe,” New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick told reporters, when asked about potentially isolating practice-squad quarterback Jake Dolegala.
“I’m sure if we all just sat around in a bubble, then nobody would get anything. But I can’t imagine we’d be a very good football team.”
As for the Broncos, coach Vic Fangio said in September that he didn’t believe a “quarantine quarterback” setup would be necessary. And even now, he isn’t fully on board with the idea.
“That’s something that we will discuss,” Fangio told reporters Monday. “But I think if we just follow the protocols, we’ll be fine.”
Contributing: USA TODAY Network reporters Martin Frank and Sal Maiorana
Contact Tom Schad at email@example.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.