NFL Expands Bench Areas, Implements Stricter Mask Policies for Players

NFL teams have experienced numerous COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, as evidenced by Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey and Broncos general manager John Elway. Many of these tests have resulted in other players having the designation of "high-risk close contact" while landing on the COVID-19/Reserve list. Now the league is introducing stricter policies in order to limit the number of cases.

According to NFL reporter Tom Pelissero, the league's chief medical officer, Dr. Sills, sent a memo to all 32 teams on Tuesday telling the players to wear masks when "not actively engaged with the game." These situations include while they are on the sideline or in the locker room. Additionally, the memo said that masks are mandated during postgame interactions between the teams.

Additionally, NFL executive Dawn Aponte outlined measures that the league is implementing during games. The bench areas — where players remain while on the sideline — are expanding. These areas will now extend from one 20-yard line to the other in an effort to limit close contacts during the games.

High-risk contacts have been a major concern all season long due to how they affect the active roster. The Baltimore Ravens designated six players as "high-risk" following Humphrey's positive test, meaning that they have to enter quarantine for five days. The players could play on Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts if cleared, but they will not be able to practice all week.

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This issue is amplified for the Green Bay Packers due to the Week 9 schedule. The NFC North team opens the week of action with a game against the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday night but will do so without the top running backs. Aaron Jones is nursing an ankle injury while AJ Dillon is in quarantine after testing positive for coronavirus. Jamaal Williams, the starter of the past two games, is inactive due to being in close contact with Dillon.

A similar situation occurred in Las Vegas prior to a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tackle Trent Brown tested positive for coronavirus, meaning that he would miss the battle with Tom Brady and co. The Raiders also designated the entire starting offensive line as "high-risk" due to the players' close proximity to Brown. They were ultimately able to return, but head coach Jon Gruden spent the entire week wondering if he would have to use a backup line against the Buccaneers.