Sudden NFL Rule Changes Offer Browns Players Hope of Return

Getty Images Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns.

The Cleveland Browns are two days away from potentially having to play a crucial game down 21 players, along with their head coach, due to the league’s current virus protocol.

Cleveland doesn’t think that’s fair, and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) agrees, which is why the two have teamed up to push the league to postpone of the game. However, new rule changes handed down by the NFL on Thursday, December 16 offer hope to at least some of the Browns on the reserve/COVID-19 list of returning to the field against the Las Vegas Raiders in time for Saturday’s game.

Among those players currently designated as out due to virus protocols are at least nine starters including QB Baker Mayfield, TE Austin Hooper and WR Jarvis Landry. Backup quarterback Case Keenum also tested positive Thursday, meaning the Browns will have to run out third-string signal caller Nick Mullens if nothing changes in the next 48 hours.

New NFL Virus Return Rules Outlined

Getty ImagesJarvis Landry, of the Cleveland Browns.

Effective immediately, testing requirements to clear a player for return to game action will be lessened and include a measure of nuance. Up until Thursday, if a player tested positive for COVID-19, he was required to pass two consecutive tests conducted 24 hours apart. That was the case even if the player was vaccinated and asymptomatic.

Under the new rules, the NFL will focus on the viral load present in each player, known as the “cycle threshold,” or CT. This new form of testing will measure whether or not the player is still contagious. In the new scenario, a player who tests positive but has a CT count of 35 or higher would be eligible to return to practice and play in games.

Players are eligible to begin the new testing requirements as soon as the next day following a positive virus test result. This timeline has been implemented in an effort to return them to action as quickly as possible.

Dan Graziano, of ESPN, published an article Thursday specifying the three paths by which players can get back onto the field.

  • Two PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests that are either negative or produce a CT value of 35 or greater.
  • One PCR test that is either negative or produces a CT value of 35 or greater, and a negative Mesa test result taken with 24 hours of the PCR test. (Mesa tests usually return results in less than an hour.)
  • Two negative Mesa tests.

“It’s not about loosening our standards,” NFL Chief Medical Officer Allen Sills told Graziano. “If anything, we’re just bringing a higher degree of precision in measuring ourselves against a more precise ruler.”

Browns, NFLPA Pushing for Postponement of Saturday’s Game

Getty ImagesBaker Mayfield, David Njoku and Rashard Higgins of the Cleveland Browns.

While the new rules offer some hope for Cleveland, they are far from a guaranteed cure-all. As such, the team and the NFLPA is pushing the league to postpone the game in the interest of fairness and competitive integrity.

“Also, the NFLPA is currently pushing aggressively for a postponement of the Raiders-Browns game on Saturday,” according to Pro Football Talk on Twitter. “Some in the union believe the entire season should shut down for a week. The union is concerned about player safety and game integrity.”

To this point, however, the NFL is not budging.

“#Browns C J.C. Tretter is the NFLPA president. He’s in the middle of the team’s run of positives this week. It’s affecting him as a team leader and union leader,” Mike Garafolo, of the NFL Network, tweeted Thursday. “The league has held firm on playing the game as scheduled to this point.”

The Browns are coming off a crucial home victory over the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday, which moved them to 7-6 on the season and placed them firmly in the thick of the playoff hunt as either a wildcard team or a division winner.

However, should the team remain as decimated by COVID protocol as it is currently, it’s hard to imagine the Browns pulling out a win over anyone. And should the team lose to the Raiders Saturday and subsequently lose out on a playoff berth, it’s nearly impossible to see how the NFL could sell that as a fair shake for Cleveland.

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