Thursday's NFL: Saints coach Payton says he tested positive for coronavirus

Associated Press

New Orleans — New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton says he has tested positive for the coronavirus, is resting comfortably at home and is making his test result public in hopes he can motivate people to do more to fight the pandemic.

Payton learned Thursday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus, he told ESPN before posting a photo of himself smiling as he sat on a couch next to his dog.

“Appreciate the well wishes,” Payton wrote on his Twitter page. “I’m feeling better and fortunate to not have any of the respiratory symptoms. 4 more days at home.” 

Payton, 56, is the first employee of either an NFL team or the league to make such a diagnosis public.

Payton told ESPN that he was tested Monday for coronavirus after he began to feel ill a day earlier. He added that he has not been admitted to a hospital and does not have a fever or cough.

“I was fortunate to be in the minority, without the serious side effects that some have. I’m lucky,” Payton told ESPN. “Younger people feel like they can handle this, but they can be a carrier to someone who can’t handle it. So we all need to do our part. It’s important for every one of us to do our part.”

Payton said he felt it was important to be particularly vigilant in Louisiana and the New Orleans area because of international tourist traffic, especially around recently concluded Mardi Gras festivities.

Saints coach Sean Payton has been diagnosed with coronavirus.

“So our parents, and those that are more susceptible to this virus, deserve everyone doing their best to combat it,” Payton said. “There are hundreds of people right now in tough predicaments, fighting for their lives. Let’s be part of the solution, not the problem. We can easily help reduce the numbers of those impacted. We have to do our best to beat this.

“This is not just about social distancing,” Payton said. “It’s shutting down here for a week to two weeks. If people understand the curve, and understand the bump, we can easily work together as a country to reduce it. 

“Take a minute to understand what the experts are saying. It’s not complicated to do what they’re asking of us. Just that type of small investment by every one of us will have a dramatic impact.”

Payton was tested soon after he returned from attending horse races Saturday at Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and the coach’s announcement had a ripple effect in horse racing.

New Orleans-based thoroughbred trainer Tom Amoss said he had spent time with Payton at Oaklawn Park and would immediately stop training horses that were scheduled to run at New Orleans’ Fair Grounds Race Course. On Saturday, Oaklawn remains scheduled to host the Louisiana Derby and several other graded stakes races – minus fans.

“I am self quarantining immediately and will get tested at the earliest possible time,” Amoss wrote on social media. “I feel great and have had no symptoms. Wishing Coach a fast recovery.”

Payton took his first head coaching job with the Saints in 2006. It was the club’s first season back in New Orleans after being displaced to San Antonio by Hurricane Katrina for the entire 2005 regular season. Payton has coached the Saints every season since — except 2012, when he was suspended for what the NFL said was his failure to stop an improper cash-for-hits bounty program run by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and some defensive players between the 2009 and 2011 seasons.

Eight of the 13 Saints squads Payton has coached have made the playoffs, advancing to the NFC title game in the 2006, 2009 and 2018 seasons, with the 2009 team winning the franchise’s lone Super Bowl title.

Payton designs the offense for the most part and calls plays for the unit led by record-setting quarterback Drew Brees, whom Payton recruited to New Orleans as a free agent in 2006.

With Payton at the helm, the Saints have ranked first in the NFL in total offense yards six times, in the top four 10 times and never worse than ninth.

Rams release Gurley, Matthews

The Los Angeles Rams have released Todd Gurley, their superstar running back with a massive contract and a troubling injury history.

The Rams made the move several minutes before $10.5 million in the three-time Pro Bowl selection’s contract became fully guaranteed.

The Rams also cut veteran linebacker Clay Matthews after just one season with his hometown club. Matthews was due a $2 million roster bonus, among other guarantees.

Gurley will consume a whopping $20.15 million in dead salary cap space this season for the Rams, who signed the 2015 first-round pick to a four-year, $60 million contract with $45 million guaranteed in June 2018. Gurley was cut before even playing the first year of that extension, which made him the highest-paid running back in the NFL at the time.

With little salary cap space and clearly serious concerns about Gurley’s ability to perform at a level commensurate to the contract they gave him, the Rams abruptly cut ties with one of the most effective running backs of the NFL’s past half-decade.

Browns add defensive line help

Cleveland beefed up its front by agreeing to a one-year contract with free-agent Andrew Billings, who spent the past three seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. His agency, SportsTrust Advisors, announced the move on Twitter with a posting that read: “Same state, new team, Congrats, @BillingsAndrew!”

A fourth-round pick in 2016 by Cincinnati, Billings will give the Browns some depth up front and potentially a starter to play alongside Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi, who can both stop the run and get to the quarterback.

The 25-year-old Billings started 37 games after missing his rookie season with a knee injury. He started 30 games in the past two seasons and made 67 tackles, 3½ sacks and 12 tackles for loss in that span.

Also, the Browns added a nickel back by agreeing on a one-year deal with cornerback Kevin Johnson, who played with Buffalo last year after spending four in Houston and they set the parameters on a one-year deal with return specialist JoJo Natson, who played his college ball at nearby Akron.

The 6-foot, 185-pound Johnson can help with covering slot receivers. The Browns already have two solid young cornerbacks in Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams — both former first-round picks.

The 26-year-old Natson spent the past two seasons with the Los Angeles Rams following one year with the New York Jets. He has averaged 9.5 yards on punt returns and 20.9 on kickoffs the past two years.

Cleveland’s special teams made major improvements last season under coordinator Mike Priefer, but the return game was not as good as he would have liked. The speedy, 5-foot-7, 153-pound Natson should help.

The 6-foot-1, 328-pound Billings and Johnson are among four defensive free agents locked up in the past 24 hours by first-time Browns general manager Andrew Berry. On Wednesday, he agreed to deals with linebacker B.J. Goodson and safety Karl Joseph.

Extra points

Alex Tanney is going to have competition to be the backup to Daniel Jones with the Giants.

New York has agreed to terms with veteran Colt McCoy on a one-year contract.

... The Packers are holding on to safety Will Redmond.

Packers GM Brian Gutekunst said that Redmond has agreed to terms on a new contract.

... The Browns found their nickel back, agreeing to terms on a one-year deal with free-agent cornerback Kevin Johnson.

... Quarterback Nick Foles says he is “looking forward to the next part of the journey” with the Bears after losing his starting job during an injury-riddled season with the Jaguars.

... The Packers have canceled their annual tailgate tour as they attempt to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

The Packers said they would donate $25,000 each to Habitat For Humanity, Special Olympics Wisconsin and Stars and Stripes Honor Flight.

... The Titans have confirmed trading five-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey to the Broncos for a seventh-round pick in April’s draft.

... The Cards agreed to terms on a one-year deal with linebacker De’Vondre Campbell.

... The Buccaneers have re-signed restricted free agent tight end Antony Auclair.

... The Vikings and kicker Dan Bailey have agreed to terms on a new contract.