Broncos Football

Broncos offensive tackle Elijah Wilkinson takes part in drills Aug. 5 in Englewood. Wilkinson will start at right tackle with regular starter Ja’Wuan James (knee) missing his 11th game of the season.

DENVER — If NFL players don't want to play this season, they shouldn’t play. No hard feelings.

Stay home. Hang with the kids. Serve meals at the Rescue Mission. Work on your short game.

Just don’t say the reason you’re not playing is because working for an NFL team increases the risk of contracting the coronavirus. That’s where you lose me, because that’s saying it’s safer outside the NFL umbrella than inside the NFL umbrella.

And that's just not true.

Broncos offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James announced Monday he’s opting out of the 2020 season. Cool. No worries. He’s only 28 years old, and it’s his health, his $10 million salary (that moves to 2021), his decision to sit this one out. The Broncos are obliged to find a new right tackle.

“Everyone make sure to stay positive through these crazy times and enjoy your loved ones. I hope 2021 will be a better year for all of us," James said in a statement. "Take care of yourselves, because ultimately, health is wealth."

All true, but that doesn’t mean the reasoning makes sense.

John Elway to Broncos on COVID-19 season: "We can't sit here and (whine) about it" | Paul Klee

Unless you have access to a laboratory that flips around coronavirus tests in less than 24 hours. The Broncos do. It’s down in Houston. And every day for the first two weeks of training camp, anyone who enters the UCHealth Training Center undergoes a virus test in the morning. The next morning, right at 4 a.m., they receive an email with their test result — negative or positive. That goes for everyone in the building — players, coaches, front office members, media relations staffers, everyone.

Talk about exhaustive.

The tests run over $100 a pop.

Talk about expensive.

Something tells me Vic Fangio will say on Tuesday that he supports James’ decision to opt out and that he's OK with it. Coaches rarely want a player in the locker room who’s not all-the-way in, and multiple times last season Fangio emphasized James had been "medically cleared.” Yet he played only 63 snaps spread over three games. There was an obvious disconnect between player and coach.

Plus, the Broncos should be able to overcome the loss of James. If losing one player that’s not the quarterback blows up your season, you weren’t good enough or deep enough to begin with. Elijah Wilkinson likely gets first crack at replacing James at right tackle.

“It’s tough, but the right decision,” said James, who added the May arrival of a newborn son influenced his decision. “There’s just too much unknown about this virus and about plans handling it going forward.”

Totally fair. His job, his health, his decision.

But it's tough to imagine many other workplaces are safer than Dove Valley right now. The rapid turnaround of their daily coronavirus tests is the biggie. I can’t get test results that fast. Can you? I don't have contact-tracing technology that’s attached to my wrist 24/7. Do you?

Shoot, the Broncos even debuted a sanitizing mister at UCHealth Training Center. No joke. They positioned it outside the door to the locker room. When players, coaches and trainers exit the locker room for the practice fields, or vice versa, they’re sprayed down from head to cleats with non-toxic, pathogen-killing sanitizer.

Does a sanitizing mister prevent the spread of the coronavirus? I don’t know. But it can’t hurt.

Woody Paige: Denver Broncos will be heavy on players, light on fans in seats

Over 40,000 coronavirus tests will be conducted over the first two weeks of NFL camps. The Broncos socially distanced the locker room, meeting rooms, cafeteria, even the shower heads. Temperature checks dot the facility. Each player has his own weight room “station” and — get this — each station after each workout gets soaked by something called an electrostatic sprayer. You can pick one up on Amazon for $549.99, or all the way up to $2,299. They look pretty handy.

The NFL's plan is not an impenetrable force field that’s guaranteed to keep the virus at a safe distance. There will be positive tests. It’s not the kind of bubble that has produced truly incredible results in the NHL (zero positives out of 7,013 tests) or NBA (two straight weeks without a positive). The NFL’s model is closer to MLB’s model, and last week almost 12,000 MLB tests produced 29 positives.

That’s a positivity rate of 0.24%. That’s really good. El Paso County’s is 8%.

None of this is to guarantee the NFL will survive 16 games plus the postseason in the middle of a pandemic. All of this is to say working in the NFL right now is one of the safest gigs around.

(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at paul.klee@gazette.com or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)

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