Tuesday's NFL: Ron Rivera opens Washington camp frustrated by vaccine hesitancy

Associated Press

Richmond, Va. — Ron Rivera opened Washington’s training camp Tuesday by expressing frustration about a lack of vaccinations among players, which has caused the cancer survivor to practice extra caution.

Rivera said he believed Washington is now over half the players in camp fully vaccinated. The NFL last week said 80% of players have started the vaccination process and that 27 of 32 teams had at least 70% of players either receive one vaccination shot or both.

Washington is not one of them — actually closer to 60% — and it has caused Rivera to take precautions.

On the eve of the start of training camp, Ron Rivera said that over half of his players are now fully vaccinated and expressed frustration about some of the reluctance.

“I’m truly frustrated,” Rivera said at his camp-opening news conference. “I’m beyond frustrated. One of the reasons I walked in with a mask on is I’m immune-deficient, so with this new variant, who knows? So when I’m in a group and the group’s not vaccinated or there’s a mixture, I put the mask on, and I do that for health reasons.”

Rivera was treated for skin cancer last year. His players’ vaccination hesitancy is one of many questions going into Rivera’s second camp as Washington’s coach.

Washington was one of two teams under 50% vaccinated in mid-July. Offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas was placed on the NFL’s COVID-19 reserve list Tuesday.

The league sent a memo to teams Thursday telling them that an outbreak among nonvaccinated players could lead to forfeits with players on both teams not getting paid.

“It could be a huge, huge disadvantage,” he said, citing Denver’s virus outbreak last season that caused the Broncos to start a rookie receiver at quarterback. “Based on the rules, you’re risking not just your paycheck but other people’s paychecks, too, if there’s no game played. I think that’s something that we all have to think about.”

And it’s not like Rivera and his staff haven’t tried. Washington brought in Harvard immunologist Kizzmekia S. Corbett, who helped develop the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, to speak with players during minicamp in June. Third-year pass rusher Montez Sweat at the time said he doesn’t support the team’s attempt to persuade players to get vaccinated and “probably won’t get vaccinated until I got more facts and that type of stuff.”

“We have a group of guys that want more information and the frustrating part is we’re trying to provide it as quickly and as much as possible,” Rivera said. “They still have to make their own decisions.”

The football questions facing Washington include safety Landon Collins’ injury status, All-Pro guard Brandon Scherff’s long-term future, and the impending quarterback competition between free agent addition Ryan Fitzpatrick, Rivera favorite Kyle Allen and surprise playoff performer Taylor Heinecke.

Collins, who had surgery on his torn left Achilles tendon last fall, was not one of the players put on the physically unable to perform list Tuesday. Receiver Curtis Samuel and cornerback Greg Stroman went on PUP, while safety Deshazor Everett and defensive tackle Tim Settle were put on the non-football illness list.

Scherff is playing a second consecutive season on the franchise tag and is all but certain to leave before 2022 if he and the team cannot work out a multiyear contract.

Washington answered a couple of questions on the eve of camp, which begins in earnest for players Wednesday with the first full practice. Defensive tackle Jonathan Allen agreed to terms on a four-year extension through 2025 worth $72 million, and tight end Logan Thomas got a three-year extension beyond this season.

Rivera was glad to get those deals done.

“These are guys we believe fit us going into the future,” he said. “It gives them some stability, and it shows other players that we most certainly are working to keep our own. That’s how you build a team: You sign those guys and keep those guys around.”

Coming off an NFC East title at 7-9 and a loss to eventual Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay in the wild-card round, Rivera’s message to players is that “it’s go time.” That could include going to get a vaccine shot given the concern about rising virus rates for those who have not been inoculated.

“The thing that still looms over our head unfortunately is the whole COVID situation,” Rivera said. “As a football team, as individuals, we have to understand what’s truly at stake in terms of opportunities going forward, and we’ll see. We’ll see how it all unfolds, and to some degree this tells us a little about us.”

Rodgers arrives

Aaron Rodgers has made it to Green Bay on the eve of the Packers’ first training-camp workout.

Rodgers was seen arriving at Lambeau Field, the day after NFL Network and ESPN reported the reigning MVP was closing in on a deal that would keep him with the Packers this season. The Packers later tweeted a photo of Rodgers at Lambeau Field — wearing oversize sunglasses and a novelty T-shirt referencing “The Office.”

The Packers open training camp Wednesday. Under terms of the collective bargaining agreement, Rodgers would have been subject to a $50,000 fine for every day he held out during camp.

Rodgers didn’t participate in organized team activities this spring — a change from his usual offseason routine — and skipped the Packers’ mandatory minicamp.

Broncos ownership update

The Broncos should have a new owner by this time next year, whether that’s Brittany Bowlen or a billionaire like Jeff Bezos.

Team president and CEO Joe Ellis said the trust that runs the franchise will begin a transition in early 2022 and the new owner will be in place by the start of next season.

“Yours truly won’t be the controlling owner (delegee) by sometime in the spring or early summer, I can’t put an exact deadline on it. But believe me, we need to get it resolved,” said Ellis, who has run the team since 2014 when Alzheimer’s forced late owner Pat Bowlen to step away from his daily duties.

Ellis is one of three trustees of the franchise valued at $3.2 billion. The trust could approve one of Bowlen’s children to become the team’s next controlling owner — Brittany Bowlen, 31, is the preferred choice — or sell the team altogether.

Extra points

The Chiefs are retiring Warpaint the horse, president Mark Donovan said.

Warpaint is a two-time Pinto World Champion who galloped on the field at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium before games and after the Chiefs scored a touchdown.

The pinto horse was originally ridden by a man in full Native American headdress. For years, a cheerleader has ridden Warpaint instead as the Chiefs distance themselves from Native American imagery.

… All-Pro cornerback Xavien Howard defused some drama from the start of the Dolphins’ training camp by showing up for work.

Howard joined the rest of the Dolphins reporting after he sat out mandatory minicamp because he’s unhappy with the $75.25 million, five-year extension he signed two years ago. There had been speculation he might hold out.

… The Vikings and assistant coach Rick Dennison have found a solution for him to remain with the club despite his unvaccinated status prohibiting from interacting with players, agreeing to contract terms with the 63-year-old to take a role as senior offensive advisor.

The Vikings announced the reassignment the day before their first full-team practice of training camp. Phil Rauscher was promoted to fill Dennison’s offensive line coach position, after serving as his assistant last season. Ben Steele was hired as assistant offensive coach. The running game coordinator title that Dennison also carried will be dropped for now.

… The Cowboys signed safety Malik Hooker, adding the 2017 first-round draft pick who couldn’t stay healthy in four seasons with Indianapolis.

… Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has become part of MLS club Sporting Kansas City’s ownership group.