Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has tested positive for COVID-19, a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed Thursday, plunging the team’s season into further doubt amid a growing coronavirus outbreak.
Jackson, the NFL’s reigning Most Valuable Player and a beloved leader in the Ravens’ locker room, is the highest-profile player yet sidelined by a virus that three other Ravens tested positive for Thursday, a source said. With the team having returned positive COVID-19 tests every day this week, Ravens players were told in a call Thursday night that Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers is increasingly unlikely to be played.
It’s unclear when or whether the NFL could make up the game, which the league on Wednesday postponed from its Thanksgiving Day slot. The Ravens are scheduled to play the Dallas Cowboys next Thursday. An NFL spokesman said Thursday night that there had been no change in the status of Sunday’s game.
The league reportedly has explored the possibility of adding a Week 18 to the regular season — provided that rescheduled games would affect the postseason. The Steelers (10-0) are headed into Week 12 as the AFC’s current No. 1 seed. The Ravens, who would be eliminated from AFC North title contention with a third straight loss this week, are one spot out of the seven-team field.
The Ravens have placed nine players on the reserve/COVID-19 list in the past week, a designation for players who have tested positive or are considered close contacts. Defensive end Jihad Ward was added Thursday, and Jackson will soon follow. Players were told Thursday that the team facility in Owings Mills would remain closed for at least five days while testing continues, according to a source.
Jackson is set to miss Sunday’s game, if it’s still played, and likely the Ravens’ Week 13 matchup. Under coronavirus protocols, players who test positive must self-quarantine for 10 days, meaning any Ravens who returned a positive test taken after Monday would have to sit out Thursday’s game against Dallas. Any players who returned positive tests would be unable to return in under 10 days unless they test negative twice at least 24 hours apart.
Jackson is the second Ravens quarterback affected by the team’s recent outbreak; third-stringer Trace McSorley was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Friday. Robert Griffin III is the Ravens’ backup quarterback, and Tyler Huntley, an undrafted rookie, is the team’s lone practice squad quarterback.
“Praying for my brother @Lj_era8 [Jackson] and every player, staff member and their families dealing with COVID-19,” tweeted Griffin, a former Washington Football Team star who started the Ravens’ Week 17 game against the Steelers last season. In his first extensive action since 2016, he completed 11 of 21 passes for 96 yards with an interception and rushed for 50 yards in a 28-10 win.
“Ensuring the safety of the entire organization is important,” Griffin added. “Handling this outbreak within the team is bigger than football.”
The Ravens have not been allowed in the team facility since Monday, when coach John Harbaugh announced that running backs Mark Ingram II and J.K. Dobbins had tested positive for COVID-19. Defensive tackle Brandon Williams joined them on the reserve/COVID-19 list as a “high-risk” close contact.
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In recent days, as players prepared virtually, Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell, offensive linemen Patrick Mekari and Matt Skura and outside linebacker Pernell McPhee were placed on the list. On Thursday afternoon, Ward was added as well. Later Thursday night, the NFL Network reported that Jackson had tested positive.
The NFL could decide to punish the Ravens organization for its handling of the outbreak. In October, the Tennessee Titans were fined $350,000 for protocol violations after a weeks-long investigation by the NFL and NFL Players Association. An outbreak forced Tennessee to shut down its facility and reschedule two games over the course of a month in which 24 positive tests, including 13 by players, were returned.
Earlier this month, the Las Vegas Raiders were reportedly fined $500,000 and stripped of a sixth-round draft pick because of repeated violations of coronavirus protocols. The NFL also fined Steelers coach Mike Tomlin $100,000 and the team $250,000 for violating mask-wearing protocols during their Week 8 win in Baltimore.
On Wednesday, the Ravens announced that they had disciplined a staff member for “conduct surrounding the recent COVID-19 cases that have affected players and staff.” According to a source, head strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders did not routinely wear his proximity tracker, which the NFL requires as part of its contact-tracing efforts, and ignored potential COVID-19 symptoms as he worked with players.
Throughout a pandemic that has claimed over 260,000 lives in the United States, Jackson has been among the Ravens’ most visible adherents to public safety standards. He said he mostly stayed in his South Florida home during the offseason. When coronavirus cases spiked in July, he canceled his annual “Funday with LJ” event in Broward County. During virtual news conferences, he’s removed his face mask only to speak to reporters.
Even amid an uneven season for Jackson on the field, his coronavirus messaging has been consistent. When asked earlier this month about cornerback Marlon Humphrey’s positive COVID-19 test, he said: “Unfortunately, it can happen to anyone. It’s just that it happened to Marlon. They always emphasize that. … Here, we always emphasize that guys have to stay safe, sanitize, keep your mask on, keep your distance. We just have to keep it going, that’s all. Stay safe.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Daniel Oyefusi contributed to this article.