By DAVE SKRETTA, AP Sports Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – The Kansas City Chiefs on Tuesday added wide receiver Tyreek Hill, cornerback Rashad Fenton and tight end Blake Bell to their growing COVID-19 list which already included the winger close Travis Kelce and kicker Harrison Butker.
The Chiefs also have Charvarius Ward on the roster, which means two of their top three cornerbacks are in the league‘s antivirus protocol, along with defensive tackle Chris Jones, linebacker Willie Gay Jr. and wide receiver Josh. Gordon.
Linebacker Nick Bolton, offensive lineman Kyle Long, right tackle Lucas Niang and safety Armani Watts were also added to the roster on Tuesday.
Another recipient from an AFC competitor also tested positive when the Buffalo Bills placed the broad – and the team’s most vocal vaccine critic – Cole Beasley on the reserve / COVID-19 list , leaving his status uncertain for a key showdown with the AFC East’s first-place finish on the line at New England on Sunday.
Buffalo could now be within two starting receivers after Emmanuel Sanders missed last weekend’s win over Carolina with a knee injury.
Beasley, who was fined by the NFL last summer for not wearing a mask inside team premises, threatened to retire in June over how COVID- protocols 19 in the league specifically targeted unvaccinated players.
In July, Beasley opened training camp declaring he was not anti- or pro-vaccination but pro-choice, criticizing the NFL for failing to provide transparent information when choosing to to get vaccinated. In doing so, he contradicted coach Sean McDermott for saying the team have done everything possible to educate their players.
For the Chiefs, Jones, Gay and Gordon tested positive last week and missed Thursday night’s win over the Chargers. There’s a good chance the line will return two negative tests and be available for this week’s game against the Steelers.
“I hope they will be there, but we just have to see how it goes,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “You know, there is a matrix of things that you have to work on. That’s where (head coach) Rick Burkholder comes in. I can’t sit here and tell you how it all works right now. Rick is working on everything every day to see where we are at.
Burkholder was among the experts the NFL consulted during the offseason to design its COVID-19 protocol.
Kelce, Butker and Ward tested positive on Monday when the Chiefs started to come back from their long weekend. The team had no formal meetings or training until Tuesday and will begin preparations for the game in earnest on Wednesday.
Until the last two weeks, the Chiefs had sailed the season relatively unscathed when it came to COVID-19, losing only star safety Tyrann Mathieu for a week and a few role players. But the rapid spread of the omicron variant across the league took a toll on Kansas City, resulting in some of their most important players being placed on the roster.
Hill is second in the league with 102 catches and fourth with 1,178 yards to go with nine touchdown catches. He had 12 catches for 148 yards and one touchdown in his last game against Los Angeles, breaking the tie with Chris Burford for third place in franchise history with 56 touchdown receptions.
Hill only needs six more catches to surpass Kelce’s single-season franchise record of 105 set last year.
Meanwhile, Kelce just wrapped up a game against the Chargers in which he caught 10 career-high 191 yards with the tying touchdown at the end of the fourth quarter and the overtime winner. Kelce has received 1,066 yards this season, the sixth in a row at least 1,000 – a record for the Chiefs and for tight ends in the NFL.
“I think this year has been important for him where he hasn’t posted the same numbers, but his mentality has never changed. He’s been a leader in this team, ”Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. “When his number is called, he goes out and plays in the big moments. That’s what the special players do. He’s a special player. I’m glad he’s on my team.”
Together, Hill and Kelce have half of the Chiefs’ receptions and over half of their yards this season.
If Hill is unable to play on Sunday, the Chiefs will be forced to rely more on Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson as well as Byron Pringle as they attempt to retain the No.1 seed in the race for AFC playoffs.
Kelce and Bell on the COVID-19 list would leave rookie Noah Gray as the only tight end of the active list.
On the defensive end, which helped fuel the Chiefs’ seven-game winning streak, Jones and Gay’s absence against the Chargers was evident in their inability to rush quarterback Justin Herbert. The Chiefs would desperately like them to come back to the field against Pittsburgh, especially if they are without Fenton and Ward at the back.
“We had a few things last week where we had to make some sudden changes,” Reid said earlier this week. “I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it. That’s what Rick does, so Rick explains it to the coaches and the players and then we roll with it. He’s the one who put in a lot of time and continues to do it. devote a lot of time to it.
–Washington defensive tackle Tim Settle, cornerback Troy Apke and tight end Sammis Reyes cleared virus protocol in time to catch a private plane to Philadelphia for the Eagles game which was moved to Tuesday night . Quarterbacks Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen didn’t test negative in time to be allowed to play, putting Garrett Gilbert in line to start days after Washington signed him. Kyle Shurmur has been promoted from the practice squad to support Gilbert. 2020 All-Pro goalie Brandon Scherff, cornerback Kendall Fuller, offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas and safety Kamren Curl were also in Washington due to COVID-19 protocols.
– The Ravens put linebacker Pernell McPhee on the reserve / COVID-19 list. He had been registered on the injured list but was designated for the return on Monday.
– Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Texans defensive lineman Jaleel Johnson have also been placed on the reserve / COVID-19 list.
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