Dallas Cowboys lead NFL in players out for COVID, but Amari Cooper cleared for Saints

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·5 min read
Yffy Yossifor/yyossifor@star-telegram.com
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  • Amari Cooper
    Amari Cooper
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Mike McCarthy
    Mike McCarthy
    American football coach
  • Nahshon Wright
    Nahshon Wright
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While the Dallas Cowboys, who have lost two straight games and three of their last four, are hoping to shake a slump Thursday night in New Orleans, they remain stuck in the grasp of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is still wreaking havoc within the organization.

Rookie safety Nahshon Wright tested positive for the virus on Tuesday and he will not play against the Saints. The team now has nine players or staffers — with head coach Mike McCarthy being chief among them — currently in COVID-19 protocols.

Wright’s disqualification makes an NFL-high of nine the number of Cowboys players who will have missed a game this season due to COVID-19.

The Minnesota Vikings have had 10 players go on the COVID-19 list since the beginning of November, but they have had only eight players miss games this season. They are expected to match the Cowboys’ nine with their game on Sunday.

As far as total games missed due to COVID-19, the Vikings lead the way with 14, the Arizona Cardinals are next with 12, and the Cowboys are at 10, according to Howard Balzer of Sports Illustrated who has kept a running total since the start of the season.

The Cowboys got some good news Wednesday when receiver Amari Cooper, who is one of just two unvaccinated players on the team and who has missed the past two games with COVID-19, was cleared and will now available for Thursday’s game in New Orleans.

The big question is how much he will be able to play able to play and how effective he will be due to a lack of conditioning after so much missed time.

McCarthy said Cooper had been experiencing a cough, and he did not practice Monday or Tuesday.

He was able to practice Wednesday, allowing them to remove him from the NFL’s COVID-19 list before the team boarded the plane to New Orleans.

McCarthy said the situation on the Cowboys drives home the importance of vaccinations for the Cowboys and the community.

“Obviously we understand the professional obligation of commitment to what we’re trying to do as a football team, and I think this is one of the things that are part of this commitment,” McCarthy said. “It’s a health focus. Trust me, you don’t want to get it to have the reminder of how important personal health is. Vaccination is obviously a huge component in this, both as a society and as a football team trying to continue to grow and get through this.

“I think our guys do a good job with the protocols but what we’re going through right now is once it gets in your building, it’s a challenge. And that’s the fight that we’re in.”

That fight includes six coaches and three players who as of now will not make the trip to New Orleans, including McCarthy; Wright; tackle Terence Steele; offensive line coach Joe Philbin; assistant offensive line coach Jeff Blasko; offensive coaching assistant Scott Tolzien; and strength and conditioning coaches Harold Nash, Cedric Smith and Kendall Smith.

Cedric Smith has a chance to come off the list by Thursday.

The Cowboys began intensifying their COVID-19 protocols last week with increased mask requirements among the staff and players. They are conducting meetings virtually. The team has also shut down the weight room with entire strength and conditioning staff unavailable.

The players have had to work out on their own.

“We just felt with [this] COVID situation that we’re in, that was a space that would put the guys more at-risk, so we decided to close it,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy, who had just a scratchy throat on Monday, said he was experiencing more head cold symptoms on Tuesday. He remains shocked at his positive test because of all the precautions he takes in order to stay safe.

He was actually scheduled to get his COVID-19 booster shot on Friday.

The Cowboys have now had a total of 15 players and staffers in the COVID-19 protocol over the last three weeks, including Cooper; running backs coach Skip Peete; kicker Greg Zuerlein; tight end Blake Jarwin (injured reserve); and receivers Robert Foster (practice squad) and T.J. Vasher (reserve/non-football injury).

The surge in positive tests among the Cowboys is a part of a league wide trend in the month of November. There have been 74 positive tests over the last 30 days compared to 24 in October.

Team owner Jerry Jones said the Cowboys have scored well on the league-wide assessments of how each team is handling the pandemic.

“We’re very proud of the grades we get,” Jones said. “I’m very confident as to our ability to actually have a protocol that limits an outbreak or limits the COVID affecting the team. I think we’re one of the best. This certainly has been a setback. When we all step back from it, this COVID has no preference as to frankly how intense your protection is, I don’t think. But I think — but I do believe you should be vaccinated.”

Jones said the Cowboys are now “totally vaccinated through the natural of having gotten it. We’re 100% — having been vaccinated or having gotten the COVID.”

Cooper and linebacker Keanu Neal are the only unvaccinated players on the team, and both have contracted COVID-19.

Under the NFL protocols, unvaccinated players who have tested positive and are clear won’t be tested daily again for 90 days. They are still subject to daily symptom screening and weekly testing.

The Cowboys nine players to miss at least a game this season with COVID-19 are: Wright; Steele; Cooper; Zuerlein; Neal; defensive ends Bradlee Anae and Randy Gregory; and guards Brandon Knight and Zack Martin. Knight is no longer with the team.