Just when you thought it could not get any worse ...
The Cleveland Browns were hit with another round of positive COVID-19 tests on Thursday, with quarterback Case Keenum being among a group that was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list for Saturday’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders.
That puts third-string quarterback Nick Mullens in line for the start as the Browns are dealing with 21 players - including 10 starters - being out for either testing positive for COVID-19 or for injury.
Now Browns’ QB Case Keenum has tested positive for COVID, leaving QB Nick Mullens in line to start Saturday vs. the Raiders, sources tell @ByKimberleyA, @FieldYates and me. Baker Mayfield already has tested positive and is on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 16, 2021
So where does this leave the Browns less than two days before the game?
Who is currently out?
In addition to Keenum, the Browns reportedly placed safeties Ronnie Harrison and Grant Delpit, cornerback A.J. Green and linebacker Jacob Phillips on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
I’m told personnel were informed that #Browns player positives are Case Keenum, Grant Delpit, AJ Green, Ronnie Harrison & Jacob Phillips, at this time, per league source.— IG: JosinaAnderson (@JosinaAnderson) December 16, 2021
They join quarterback Baker Mayfield, guard Drew Forbes, tight end Austin Hooper, wide receiver Jarvis Landry, right guard Wyatt Teller, left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr., defensive end Takkarist McKinley, cornerback Troy Hill, safety John Johnson III, defensive tackle Malik McDowell and defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo, who were all placed on the list this week, and linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. and punter Jamie Gillan, who are still on the list from last week.
If that were not enough, the Browns ruled out running back Kareem Hunt, cornerback Greg Newsome II and wide receiver Anthony Schwartz because of injuries.
To recap, the Browns are without their top two quarterbacks, two members of the offensive line, a top running back, a top wide receiver, three members of the defensive line, two of their top cornerbacks and all of their primary safeties.
Somewhere in Las Vegas, quarterback Derek Carr, who is currently second in the league in passing yards, has a big smile on his face.
Is there any good news?
The Browns activated tight end David Njoku from the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Thursday, and listed tight end Harrison Bryant as questionable for Saturday’s game with an ankle injury.
Cleveland also signed 6-foot-5 wide receiver Lawrence Cager from the practice squad, so at least Mullens will have a big target to aim for when he passes on Saturday.
Who is Nick Mullens?
Quarterback Nick Mullens was originally signed by the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted free agent in 2017.
Mullens played in 19 games with the 49ers, making 16 starts. He has completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 4,714 yards and 25 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.
He has spent this season on Cleveland’s practice squad, although he was activated for the Week 7 game against the Denver Broncos but did not play.
So is there any hope?
The NFL announced on Thursday a change to its COVID-19 protocols, which opens up a small window for the players to return by Saturday.
Normally vaccinated players and staff would need two negative tests 24 hours apart and be free of symptoms.
But now, if a player or staff member is vaccinated and asymptomatic for 24 hours, they can return after testing positive if they meet one of three criteria, according to The Beacon Journal:
Receive two PCR test results that are either negative or produce Cycle Threshold values of 35 or greater
Receive one PCR test result that is either negative or produces CT values of 35 or greater and a negative Mesa result from a test taken within 24 hours of the PCR test (both may be taken at the same time or less than 24 hours apart)
Receive two negative Mesa test results that may be taken concurrently but must be two separate swabs
The deadline for all that to happen is Friday at 4 p.m., so the timing is tight but a few players might be able to make it back.
What about postponing the game?
While the NFL Players Association is reportedly advocating that Saturday’s game be postponed, the NFL currently has no plans to postpone the game.
NFLPA wants Raiders-Browns to be postponed; it has discussed the possibility of shutting everything down for a week -- even though the NFL would never do that. https://t.co/ipai0RXq5L— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) December 17, 2021
There is still time for the league to change its mind, of course, but for now the game is still on.
What do the players think?
Cleveland’s players are understandably not happy about the situation.
One point of contention is that the league told the club that no one would be tested on Thursday, but at some point changed its mind and tested players after practice. Testing normally takes place prior to practice, and the change did not sit well with quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Tell me if this makes sense…. No tests this morning… then let our team gather for practice… then show up after practice to test them. Something seems off here.— Baker Mayfield (@bakermayfield) December 16, 2021
Defensive end Myles Garrett also raised an eyebrow over the change (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“Today, it was it was strange in the way they went about testing or I guess the lack of testing. I know today they were saying that we were not going to test, and we were just going to go into the building, even though we might have a couple more guys pop up as positive. It almost seemed like we were just ignoring it instead of addressing the issue. We should go ahead and test and then allow in the building but not before you get results, and that is how it should be.”
The NFL seems intent on seeing this game be played on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. A lot can change between now and then, as Browns fans have seen all week, so stay tuned!