UPDATED at 6:21 pm: The Cleveland Browns placed cornerback Denzel Ward on the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Thursday afternoon.
Ward will now miss Sunday’s season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and because he reportedly tested positive may miss the Browns opening playoff game if they qualify.
We've made the following roster moves:— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) December 31, 2020
Placed on reserve/COVID-19:
LB Malcolm Smith
CB Denzel Ward
Activated from reserve/COVID-19:
WR Rashard Higgins
WR KhaDarel Hodge
WR Jarvis Landry
WR Donovan Peoples-Jones
LB Jacob Phillips
The Browns also placed linebacker Malcolm Smith on the Reserve/COVID-19 list for a positive test, as well as tight end Harrison Bryant, who reportedly also tested positive a day after being placed on the list as a high-risk close contact.
Because the NFL and the NFLPA updated their COVID-19 protocols on December 15 to mandate than any player who tests positive for virus must be out at least 10 days, Ward, Smith and Bryant may not be eligible to return for Cleveland’s first playoff game if they qualify with a win on Sunday.
Even with the Steelers sitting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, along with several other starters, on Sunday, the loss of Ward is big as the Browns struggled when he missed three games earlier this season with a calf injury.
Over the 3 games Denzel Ward missed with the calf injury (Jags, Titans, Ravens) the #Browns surrendered the second-highest QBR in the league, and second-most yards per play. His status for a potential playoff game is very much in jeopardy, as well— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) December 31, 2020
In response to the positive tests, the Browns opted to close team headquarters completely for the day. They will hopefully return on Friday for practice.
The lone bright spot is that wide receivers Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge were all activated on Thursday, along with linebacker Jacob Phillips.
All five players missed last Sunday’s game against the New York Jets after landing on the Reserve/COVID-19 list for being high-risk, close contacts to linebacker B.J. Goodson, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday.
Original story: The year may be coming to a close at midnight, but it appears that 2020 is not done messing with the Cleveland Browns just yet.
The Browns were forced to close the team’s facility again on Thursday morning after two players tested positive for COVID-19.
Our team will continue to work remotely this morning. pic.twitter.com/6ttbajfnFi— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) December 31, 2020
NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero later reported that the players are linebacker Malcolm Smith and tight end Harrison Bryant, who was already in isolation after being hit as a high-risk close contact of someone outside the organization that tested positive.
#Browns LB Malcolm Smith and TE Harrison Bryant are the players who tested positive for COVID-19, per sources. Bryant was already isolated and on the COVID list after a high-risk close contact outside the building.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) December 31, 2020
Both players will now be out for Sunday’s season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Browns can get by without Bryant given the depth of the tight end position, but they are now becoming very thin at the linebacker position.
In addition to Smith, linebacker B.J. Goodson will miss his second consecutive game after being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, and linebackers Sione Takitaki and Tae Davis were limited in practice on Wednesday as they are both dealing with ankle injuries from last Sunday’s game against the New York Jets.
The team does expect to have linebacker Jacob Phillips back at practice on Thursday, along with wide receivers Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge, all of whom missed the Jets game after being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
The Browns could potentially be down more players for the Pittsburgh game depending on the results of the contact tracing following today’s positive tests. If anyone else is found to be a high-risk, close contact, they will not be eligible to play against the Steelers given the league-mandated five-day rule from initial exposure.