Virus Disruptions Hit 49ers and Broncos, as N.F.L. Crisis Grows

The 49ers would need to train away from their headquarters for three weeks under an order from local health officials. The Broncos have none of their quarterbacks available for their game on Sunday.

An order from local health officials for high school, college and professional teams to temporarily stop contact sports could have a big effect on the San Francisco 49ers, who play in Santa Clara, Calif.
Credit...Tony Avelar/Associated Press

After bobbing and weaving around the coronavirus pandemic for much of the fall, the N.F.L. is facing crises on teams from coast to coast in its final stretch of the regular season.

On Saturday, health officials in Santa Clara County threw the San Francisco 49ers’ season into turmoil when they temporarily banned all contact sports at the high school, college and professional levels and required anyone traveling into the region from more than 150 miles away to quarantine starting at 12:01 a.m. Monday. The order would be in effect until at least Dec. 21 and would apply to the Stanford and San Jose State college football teams, and to the San Jose Sharks of the N.H.L., among others.

In Baltimore, six more members of the Ravens have tested positive for the virus as the outbreak in the team’s locker room expanded to 18 players, including the team’s star quarterback, Lamar Jackson.

And in Denver, the Broncos appear to have run out of quarterbacks because Blake Bortles, Drew Lock and Brett Rypien were forced to quarantine after coming in contact with a fourth quarterback, Jeff Driskel, who tested positive for the virus on Thursday, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because the team had not announced the details. All four players are ineligible to play Sunday when the Broncos face the New Orleans Saints, and at this point Denver’s options for filling the position are extremely limited, because the league’s virus-related rules preclude bringing in a player who has not quarantined ahead of joining a team.

The league disclosed on Sunday that it had fined the Saints $500,000 and took away their seventh round draft choice for celebrating without masks in their locker room after they beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 8. The New England Patriots were also fined $350,000 for violating the league’s safety protocols in October when Cam Newton and others on the team tested positive, forcing the league to reschedule their game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The league’s doctors said they expect the number of positive cases to rise in line with surging infections across the country. On Friday, the N.F.L. told every team to cancel in-person practices on Monday and Tuesday because some players and personnel had celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends.

The 49ers face more pressing problems. The decision by local health officials could force the team to move at least two home games next month, and to leave their training site in Santa Clara.

The outbreak in Denver resulted in an unusual deficit at quarterback for Sunday’s game.

A league executive familiar with the situation in Denver but who could not talk on behalf of the team said that the three quarterbacks initially did not tell the team’s contact tracers that they had been with Driskel in a meeting room without their masks on for a substantial length of time. Once that was disclosed, the quarterbacks were considered to have had high-risk contact with him and were forced to isolate for at least five days.

During the past six weeks, more than 20 players who had “high risk contact” later tested positive.

As news of the roster trouble surfaced on Saturday evening, Broncos linebacker Von Miller posted a tweet that contained a photograph of himself setting up to pass and a reference to resembling John Elway, the Hall of Fame quarterback who led Denver to two Super Bowl titles and is now the team’s president of football operations.

For much of the season, the N.F.L. had only one full-fledged outbreak, when two dozen players and other personnel tested positive on the Tennessee Titans. The league got through that crisis by postponing a handful of games and moving a few others around. But teams have mostly exhausted their bye weeks, complicating efforts to juggle game dates this late in the season.

The outbreak on the Ravens prompted the league to move their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers from Thursday to Sunday and then to Tuesday next week. The game is still scheduled for Tuesday despite the increase in positive cases.

If any games, including the Ravens-Steelers matchup, are unable to fit into the league’s existing calendar, the N.F.L. may have to add an 18th week to the regular season and delay the start of the playoffs.

“We are at risk of exceeding our hospital capacity very soon if current trends continue,” said Dr. Sara Cody, the health officer for Santa Clara County, who added that the number of patients hospitalized with Covid-19 in the county had doubled in the past few weeks.

The 49ers, who are to play the Rams in Los Angeles on Sunday, should be able to return to Santa Clara County before the quarantine goes into effect. But it is not clear where and when they will go next.

“We are aware of the Santa Clara County Public Health Department’s emergency directive,” Bob Lange, the 49ers team spokesman, said in a statement. “We are working with the N.F.L. and our partners on operational plans and will share details as they are confirmed.”