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Dougherty: Quarantine QB? Keeping Aaron Rodgers off COVID list must be Packers' priority

Pete Dougherty   | Packers News
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GREEN BAY - This week I asked an offensive coach in the NFL how far he would go to protect an established veteran quarterback from COVID-19 if he were running a team.

“With a veteran team and established Hall of Fame quarterback, I would have all players stay home and have Zoom meetings,” the coach answered via text. “Players only come on campus for treatment, weight training and practice. Shower at home if you don’t need treatment.”

The same coach also knows of no team going to that extreme, though the Cincinnati Bengals are at least one club doing that with only their quarterbacks. Zoom meetings only, nothing in person for No. 1 pick Joe Burrow.

Keeping quarterbacks home except for practice and workouts means forfeiting a lot of in-person communication with the most important position on the team. But it's hard not to wonder if at some point this season, perhaps sooner rather than later, it might come to that for the Packers as well to increase the odds of keeping Aaron Rodgers off the COVID-19 list.  

In a league where quarterbacks have an outsized influence on winning and losing, they might have an even greater impact in 2020. With no offseason practices and a shortened training camp, top veteran quarterbacks with deep knowledge of the league and their offenses figure to have an even bigger edge than usual.

That very much includes Rodgers, who though he slipped some in Mike Sando’s annual quarterback rankings that came out last week is still regarded by the NFL’s top decision makers as among the league’s elite. The poll is based on rankings by 50 coaches and front-office executives around the league, and after finishing tied or alone in first place the previous six years, Rodgers came in third this year, behind Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson.

As one defensive coach told The Athletic’s Sando: “(These premier quarterbacks) will be playing against defenses with no preseason games and these guys, especially if they have a veteran receiving corps that they are used to, then their skills become amplified. These defenses will have no ability to disguise their coverage, to work against the play clock, to really get into game situations where they can fool with the quarterback. This can be a little bit like sheep to wolves, these Tier 1 quarterbacks playing against these virus defenses.”

The Packers also are fortunate COVID-19 didn't hit last season, when Matt LaFleur was implementing a new offense as a rookie coach. Rodgers is not learning a new scheme and coach under the difficult circumstances of 2020.

Still, at least for now, LaFleur and general manager Brian Gutekunst don’t appear to be taking any special precautions to isolate and limit personal contact with their quarterbacks above and beyond what they’re doing for the rest of the team.

“Not yet,” Rodgers said in a video conference with reporters Monday.

That, of course, is subject to change depending on whether the virus hits the Packers hard over the next six months. There’s no telling what LaFleur and Gutekunst might have to do to keep Rodgers off the COVID-19 list. Every game matters, especially if the NFL ends up playing fewer than 16 – it’s not hard to envision the league shortening to a 12- or even 10-game schedule to somehow, some way get to the Super Bowl next February or March. Landing on the COVID-19 list is likely to cost a player two weeks, and if that player is Rodgers, it could be the difference between the Packers making or missing the playoffs.

“The winner of the Super Bowl will probably be the team that manages coronavirus the best,” one front-office executive in the league told me recently.

But even with the greatest precautions, there’s no way of guaranteeing any player won’t catch the virus no matter how careful he is, which means we could end up seeing almost every team’s backup quarterback at some point this season. That means the Packers have to be just as mindful with backups Jordan Love and Tim Boyle, because there’s no knowing how badly the virus might hit before the season is done. 

One idea that has been floated around the league is having a backup quarterback essentially quarantined – that is, attending meetings virtually but working out on his own in case the virus takes a hard run through a team. Sort of a “break glass in case of emergency” quarterback.

The Packers can’t make Love that guy; he needs all the hands-on coaching he can get as a rookie. And even though the Packers drafted Love as their future, it’s not a given he’ll beat out Boyle for the No. 2 job this year, so maybe they’ll end up adding a fourth quarterback in the coming weeks after cutting undrafted rookie Jalen Morton on Monday.

When asked about isolating his quarterbacks or having an emergency “quarantine” guy among the backups, LaFleur this week said the Packers “have floated around that idea a little bit. Have not made a decision on that at this point, but that’s certainly something that’s not out of the realm.”

Almost nothing is out of the realm in what is surely going to be the strangest NFL season since the league’s formative years. The entire Packers organization faces a huge challenge keeping COVID-19 from sabotaging their season. Near the top of that list is keeping Rodgers off the COVID list.

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