From maskless fundraisers to unregulated personnel in the locker room to unworn trackers, the season has been a wild ride for the Raiders in their attempts to follow the NFL’s stringent COVID-19 protocols.
The most significant on-field effects were felt last week when the Raiders had to play without starting offensive tackle Trent Brown, who tested positive for COVID-19, and safety Johnathan Abram, who was on the reserve list despite no positive test because he had been close to Brown on Oct. 20.
The rest of the starting offensive line was able to play Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but all four had to sit out practice all week under league contact tracing rules. That process was complicated by Brown’s inconsistent use of the tracking devices required for anyone who enters the team facility.
From the outside, the team’s adherence to the coronavirus rules and regulations has been inconsistent at best.
But coach Jon Gruden, who has made “crush the virus” a consistent war cry around the team’s Henderson headquarters, takes exception to such a categorization.
“I’m really proud of our organization and what we’ve done,” Gruden said Monday. “There’s a lot of things (that) have been written and said about some of the violations that we have committed, but we’re on the cutting edge of beating the virus. What we’ve done as an organization (has been) top notch.”
Brown followed cornerback Damon Arnette, who was already on injured reserve and tweeted on Tuesday he is now virus-free, to the COVID-19 list. Defensive tackle Maurice Hurst was also on the list because of an in-season positive test.
The Raiders hope to have Brown back for Sunday’s game at the Cleveland Browns.
Gruden, who said he tested positive for the virus before the season, was fined $100,000 for not wearing a face mask at times during games in the first two weeks of the season. The organization was docked $250,000 at the same time for failing to ensure Gruden followed protocols.
Several players, including quarterback Derek Carr, were fined $15,000 by the league when video surfaced of them attending a fundraiser for tight end Darren Waller’s foundation without masks and in close proximity to the public. Waller was fined $30,000.
The Raiders also paid a $50,000 fine for allowing an unauthorized team employee into the locker room after a win over the New Orleans Saints in the first game at Allegiant Stadium.
The Tennessee Titans were assessed a $350,000 fine over the weekend for repeated violations of the protocols, and the Raiders could be next.
“I don’t know who’s reporting that, and I really don’t know who said that, but I’m not going to react to that,” Gruden said. “I have not heard anything from anybody other than what they have seen us do is extremely positive. We have renovated our facility. We have done everything we can to follow protocol.”
On Tuesday, the Raiders added linebacker James Onwualu and defensive back Kemah Siverand to the practice squad, placing wide receiver Robert Davis and defensive back D.J. White on the practice squad-injured list.
Fair or not, Siverand’s signing is sure to raise eyebrows.
He was released by the Seattle Seahawks in training camp for reportedly trying to sneak a female friend into the team hotel, an egregious violation of the health and safety protocols.
Siverand issued an emotional apology, and it seems unlikely he would risk his second chance at playing in the NFL by doing anything to flout the rules again.
That didn’t stop the Twitter jokes from starting as soon as the signing was announced.
Gruden said he thinks the Raiders are being singled out.
“We don’t have any issues,” he said. “We had a guy get the virus on the bye week. We had a guy perhaps didn’t use his tracer. We’re not the only team in the league that has had people catch the virus. You can do your research on that and make sure we’re all on the same page.
“Everybody in the country and in the world is dealing with the virus, including the president of the United States. It’s a problem for coaches, you can ask Nick Saban, you can ask a lot of college coaches. We’re doing everything we can to beat the virus.”