As Thursday drew into the afternoon hours for the Cleveland Browns, the vast deflation of what should have been one of the most exciting weeks in franchise history continued.
The practice center remained closed. Quarterback Baker Mayfield, who is not allowed to train with his teammates outside the facility, told reporters he had not thrown a football since the regular season final . Cleveland Coach of the Year contender Kevin Stefanki continues to play on a pattern of play that won’t involve him as the franchise enters Pittsburgh Stadium on Sunday night. And the front office did it all but set about lighting prayer candles in hopes of filling the continuing holes in the list created by COVID-19 almost daily.
And all the while, the NFL is sitting on its hands because, hey, the rules aren’t meant to be bent unless it’s something the league office actually needs.
This is the worst part of what’s going on with this whole situation in Cleveland. A team that has just crafted one of the most salable points on the NFL – that any backward franchise can get back on track quickly with just a few good decisions – is gradually being sucked into a COVID shredder and the league isn’t t really say nothing at all. A source from the team told Yahoo Sports that the only real “break” Cleveland could catch at this point in the NFL would be if another virus outbreak crossed the roster and ate enough depth chart to force the league out. push the AFC wild card game back. This is the solution here that the NFL has been trying to sell for much of the season: if your problem is competitive and not health and safety, then it is. your problem. Treat it like injuries and good luck.
I use the phrase “much of the season” because the truth is the NFL hasn’t been consistent this season. You can find many fan bases that can attest to this. Some were fined severely for COVID violations and the Las Vegas Raiders even had a stripped draft pick, but others skated with a slap on the wrist or nothing at all. The basis of the difference in these decisions is what the NFL decided to be a gratuitous contempt versus a desperate cry of “oops, we had an accident in the middle of a pandemic” (which is sometimes an assessment. just the way some teams have been slapped by COVID).
As for the impact on the pitch, we’ve seen some franchises afford the luxury of moving their games this season, while others, like the Browns this week, have been forced to manage the hand they’ve been given. . The Denver Broncos come to mind, having been trapped in the worst game of the entire season by the league, which took the position of not giving the team a mulligan and waiting a few days to make sure. that an entire quarterback room was COVID positive. It wasn’t sure, but the Broncos must have played a game with an entire practice squad taking center shots, which probably wasn’t the safest game he had ever played in his time. life if we are talking about health and safety.
Like every other team in the league this season, the league office has been part of a huge season of trial and error. Things were going to break down and the NFL and its teams were going to do their best to fix them and learn. And as part of that process, learning would lead to adjustments that would make teams safer, better, and keep the product at a level worthy of the richest sports league in the world. All of this raises this question:
If the NFL has learned a few lessons, why can’t it adapt on the fly and apply that knowledge this week, when it matters most?
Detroit Lions shouldn’t influence Browns’ playoff fortunes
Start with Stefanski, who has tested positive for COVID, being isolated from the team and banned from coaching in Cleveland’s first playoff game in 18 years. The league is sticking to this 10-day isolation decision for two reasons: consistency and competitive balance.
It seems logical, unless you consider the inconsistent maneuvering of the league office for much of the season, especially when it comes to pushing some games but not others – and never really the idea of taking. a week of “reset” (which had everything to do with television and planning the Super Bowl). Now the NFL says that needs to be consistent because everyone agreed ahead of the season that head coaches should stay away from their teams if their positive COVID diagnosis is added to the game. And, damn it, they made interim Detroit Lions coach Darrell Bevell stay at home, so they sure wouldn’t want to step outside of that standard.
If 2020 has taught the league anything, it’s that decisions made at the end of the summer have a lot of room for error. Adjustments can be made, postures rethought, especially when it comes to the playoffs. Maybe let the head coaches get a playoff pass and be involved in game day operations from home. While I certainly don’t want Stefanski to be in such an important game for the franchise, I also don’t want that to happen to Mike Tomlin or Andy Reid or Matt LaFleur or any other head coach this month. And I absolutely refuse to believe that it should happen in the Super Bowl, so why should the league stick to it on the opening foray?
Don’t say the Lions will be upset either. It’s the Lions, and it was a regular season game with an interim coach. You talk about a franchise whose ownership has made such cutting edge decisions that it has achieved a playoff victory in 63 years. In what world do the Lions deserve to dictate if another team should have a rule folded so that a head coach can be involved in their team’s playoff game during a pandemic season? Especially when the NFL has already clung to the league’s longest-standing favor in football history by allowing the Lions to be locked into a very lucrative Thanksgiving game since 1934. The NFL owes the Lions nothing, much less an explanation for why she won’t demote a coaching staff in a playoff game during a COVID season.
Why can’t the rule be adjusted for Stefanski of the Browns?
When it comes to competitive balance, Stefanski being at home and coaching the game from that point of view offers nothing. I spoke to a handful of league team sources and all agreed it wasn’t much different from what Stefanski was in a stadium skybox. It wouldn’t interfere with secondary communications in any significant way and Stefasnki wouldn’t get any piece of additional information that teams can’t get during their matches. This is not a problem. The Steelers could be upset that the league is breaking the rule for Cleveland, given that Pittsburgh got the end of the stick by losing a week off due to the Tennessee Titans outbreak, then a long weekend due to the Baltimore Raven Outbreak. I concede that it is possible. I’ve also dated Tomlin enough to know that he cares about the NFL coaching fraternity and enjoys winning games without another team being at a disadvantage. I think Tomlin would give Stefanski a pass, and that’s enough for me.
To Cleveland’s credit, the Browns aren’t complaining about any of this. As much as the fanbase is in arms and gouging Commissioner Roger Goodell at every turn, the franchise has shrugged. Stefanski suggested it was about having a stiff upper lip and rolling with it and not making excuses. The front office is just trying to do the best job it can and not push for a shutdown or even push for a change in the coaching rule with COVID.
This is all the more reason to make an exception here in a long season of exceptions. If nothing has been to be fair in 2020, that’s fine, but at least be where you can be. The league has the opportunity to do so. Either push the game and help the Browns, or at least let them involve their head coach on game day. You don’t have to be perfect all the time if you are Goodell. You just have to put in the effort when it demands it.
We are in this space. Recognize it. Do the right thing.
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