GREEN BAY — From the moment the NFL issued its 2021 COVID-19 protocols this summer, it was clear: Unvaccinated players were going to be inconvenienced more than vaccinated players, and teams with low vaccination percentages were going to be put at a competitive disadvantage compared to teams with high vaccination rates.
On Tuesday, the Packers experienced those drawbacks firsthand when wide receiver Allen Lazard was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list — even though, unlike fellow wide Davante Adams, Lazard did not test positive for the coronavirus, according to multiple sources.
In short, had Lazard been vaccinated, he would be able to play against the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night.
NFL Network was first to report Lazard is not vaccinated and won’t play Thursday night because he was deemed a close contact to Adams. Non-vaccinated close contacts are required per NFL rules to quarantine for five days, meaning Lazard will have to miss the game at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
Two sources confirmed Lazard is out because he is an unvaccinated close contact.
In announcing the roster move, the Packers wrote in a statement, “Per agreed-upon NFL-NFLPA policy, clubs are not permitted to comment on a player’s medical status other than referring to roster status. Being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list is for a player who either tests positive for COVID-19 or who has been in close contact with an infected person or persons.”
Asked Tuesday evening not specifically about Lazard but generally about unvaccinated players putting his team at a competitive disadvantage because their absence was preventable had they been vaccinated, Packers coach Matt LaFleur replied: “Certainly, anytime you don’t have your guys, that is a competitive disadvantage. But listen, everybody’s got choices in this world, and I’m not going to be the guy that’s going to sit there and criticize people for doing what they believe is right. So, it is what it is. And we’ll make the best of it.”
Lazard was asked on Sept. 10 during a Zoom call with reporters about his status, and whether he’d faced any challenges to that point in the season because he’d been observed following protocols that were required of unvaccinated players.
“I think this whole thing is obviously a challenge for everybody, not just us within the building but across the country and across the world,” Lazard replied. “As far as for us in this building, I think we’re just focused on football and putting ourselves in the best position to be successful.”
Gray to call plays
With defensive coordinator Joe Barry also set to miss Thursday’s game after testing positive for COVID-19 on Monday, LaFleur said defensive backs coach/passing-game coordinator Jerry Gray will handle the play-calling on that side of the ball. Gray served as the defensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans earlier in his career.
LaFleur said Gray will call the plays while inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti will relay the calls to linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, the on-the-field defensive play-caller, through the helmet communication system.
“Jerry (Gray) will call it, (but) it’s still going to be a collective effort from all the guys,” LaFleur said. “We have a lot of confidence in our defensive staff.”
Waiting on Bakhtiari, Alexander
LaFleur once again did not rule out the possibility of left tackle David Bakhtiari, who remains on the physically unable to perform list but began practicing last week on the comeback trail from last year’s season-ending knee injury, playing against the Cardinals. But reading between the lines, it sure sounded like Nov. 7 at Kansas City is the more realistic return date for the five-time All-Pro.
“A lot of it comes down to just collectively — with David being part of that group, our medical staff, obviously Gutey (general manager Brian Gutekunst) and all of us — getting together to make the best determination of where he is and if he’s ready to go or not,” LaFleur said.
“I think everything is up in the air with him. I said a long time ago it’ll be day to day, but the last thing we want to do is, again, put him at further risk. He’s coming off a really significant injury. He looks great. He’s worked his tail off. He’s put a lot of hours in. We just want to make sure the timing’s right.”
Meanwhile, cornerback Jaire Alexander, who is on injured reserve with a shoulder injury suffered Oct. 3 against Pittsburgh, continues to make progress and appears on track to return sometime this season.
“I think we’re optimistic,” LaFleur said. “But to tell you when that will be, I can’t tell you that.”
On the official injury report, the Packers estimated defensive tackle Kenny Clark (ankle), cornerback Kevin King (shoulder), defensive end Dean Lowry (ankle) and outside linebacker Preston Smith (oblique) as limited participants in practice. The team did a walkthrough Tuesday and did not actually practice.
Smith and King sat out Sunday’s win over Washington but could return against the Cardinals.
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