They were among nine players, including two on the practice squad, who joined tight end Travis Kelce and kicker Harrison Butker on Kansas City’s growing list.
The Chiefs also have Charvarius Ward on the list, which means two of their top three cornerbacks are in the league’s virus protocol, along with defensive tackle Chris Jones, linebacker Willie Gay Jr. and wide receiver Josh Gordon.
Linebacker Nick Bolton, offensive lineman Kyle Long, right tackle Lucas Niang and safety Armani Watts also were added to list on Tuesday.
On Monday, the first day under the NFL’s revised protocols, 47 players were placed on the COVID-19 list, the most in a single day since the pandemic began.
Another receiver on an AFC contender tested positive Tuesday when the Buffalo Bills placed wideout Cole Beasley on the COVID-19 list. Unvaccinated players aren’t eligible to return for 10 days so Beasley wouldn’t be available for Sunday’s game at New England with first place in the AFC East on the line.
Buffalo could now be missing two starting receivers after Emmanuel Sanders missed this past weekend’s win over Carolina because of a knee injury.
Beasley, who was fined by the NFL last summer for failing to wear a mask inside the team’s facility, threatened to retire in June over how the league’s COVID-19 protocols specifically targeted unvaccinated players.
In July, Beasley opened training camp by saying he’s not anti- or pro-vaccination, but pro choice, in criticizing the NFL for failing to provide transparent information in making their choice to get vaccinated. In doing so, he contradicted coach Sean McDermott for saying the team has done everything possible to educate its players.
For the Chiefs, Jones, Gay and Gordon tested positive last week and missed Thursday night’s win over the Chargers. There’s a good chance the trio could return two negative tests and be available for this week’s game against the Steelers.
“I’m hoping they’re going to be there, but we just have to see how it goes,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “You know, there’s a matrix of things you have to work out. That’s where (head trainer) Rick Burkholder comes in. I can’t sit here and tell you how all that works right now. Rick is working through everything every day to see where we’re at.”
Burkholder was among the experts that the NFL consulted during the offseason to devise its COVID-19 protocol.
Kelce, Butker, and Ward tested positive on Monday, when the Chiefs began to return from their long weekend. The team did not have any formal meetings or practice until Tuesday and will begin game preparation in earnest on Wednesday.
Until the past two weeks, the Chiefs had navigated the season relatively unscathed when it came to COVID-19, losing only star safety Tyrann Mathieu for a week and a couple of role players. But the rapid transmission of the omicron variant across the league has hit Kansas City hard, resulting in some of their most important players going on the list.
Hill is second in the league with 102 catches and fourth with 1,178 yards to go along with nine touchdown catches. He had 12 catches for 148 yards and a touchdown in his most recent game against Los Angeles, breaking a tie with Chris Burford for third place in franchise history with 56 touchdown receptions.
Hill needs just six more catches to pass Kelce’s single-season franchise record of 105 set last year.
Meanwhile, Kelce is coming off a game against the Chargers in which he caught 10 passes for a career-high 191 yards along with the tying TD late in the fourth quarter and the winner in overtime. Kelce has 1,066 yards receiving this season, the sixth straight of at least 1,000—a record for both the Chiefs and for NFL tight ends.
“I think this year has been big for him where he hasn’t put up the same numbers, but his mentality has never changed. He’s been a leader on this team,” Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said.
“When his number gets called, he goes out there and makes plays in big moments. That’s what special players do. He’s a special player. I’m glad he’s on my team.”
Together, Hill and Kelce have half of the Chiefs’ receptions and more than half of their yards receiving this season.
If Hill is unable to play Sunday, the Chiefs will be forced to rely more heavily on inconsistent Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson along with Byron Pringle as they try to keep the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff race.
Kelce and Bell on the COVID-19 list would leave rookie Noah Gray as the only tight end on the active roster.
On the defensive side, which has helped fuel the Chiefs’ seven-game win streak, the absence of Jones and Gay against the Chargers was evident in their inability to rush quarterback Justin Herbert.
The Chiefs would desperately like them back on the field against Pittsburgh, especially if they are without Fenton and Ward on the back end.
“We’ve had a couple things last week where we had to make a couple sudden changes,” Reid said earlier this week. “I’m not going to spend a ton of time on it. That’s what Rick does, so Rick explains it to the coaches and to the players, and then we roll with it. He’s the one that’s put a lot of time into it and continues to put a lot of time into it.”
Washington cornerback Troy Apke cleared virus protocol in time to take a private plane to Philadelphia for the game against the Eagles that was moved to Tuesday night. Quarterbacks Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen did not test negative in time to be cleared to play, putting Garrett Gilbert in line to start days after Washington signed him. Kyle Shurmur was promoted from the practice squad to back up Gilbert. Also out for Washington because of COVID-19 protocols were 2020 All-Pro guard Brandon Scherff, cornerback Kendall Fuller, offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas and safety Kamren Curl.
The Ravens put linebacker Pernell McPhee on the COVID-19 list. He had been on injured reserve but was designated for return Monday.
Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Texans defensive lineman Jaleel Johnson also have been placed on the COVID-19 list. Valdes-Scantling was coming off one of his most productive performances of the season, as he had five catches for 98 yards and a touchdown in a 31–30 victory at Baltimore.
The Jets placed rookie left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker and cornerback Michael Carter II on the COVID-19 list. They also activated QB Mike White from the list.
By Dave Skretta