DENVER -- QB or not QB, that is the question after one of the most bizarre and depressing days in Broncos history.
According to multiple sources, Broncos quarterbacks Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Blake Bortles were ruled ineligible for Sunday's home game against the New Orleans Saints after additional contact tracing with Jeff Driskel revealed players not wearing masks. Driskel's positive COVID-19 test was revealed Thursday, and the trio was last around him on Wednesday.
That leaves the Broncos with no quarterbacks available. Per sources, the Broncos plan to start practice squad receiver Kendall Hinton, a former college quarterback at Wake Forest, and could use a combination of running backs Royce Freeman, Phillip Lindsay and Melvin Gordon.
Hinton played quarterback for the Demon Deacons, but threw only eight passes over his final two years, and none his senior season. The last time he played the position regularly was in 2015.
I reached out to Broncos rookie linebacker Justin Strnad for his scouting report on his former teammate at Wake Forest. "Dual-threat ability. He was our QB for two years at Wake. I am excited for K2."
The possibility of using a wildcat formation with Freeman, the team's emergency quarterback on normal weeks, Lindsay and Godon remains an option to diversify the attack. Hinton did not get reps in Saturday's short practice, as the status of the quarterbacks was uncertain, so his pregame preparation and warmup will take on added importance.
Broncos players began weighing in on Twitter, and were not happy.
"@NFL you took our bye week moved our game vs Pats but you gone make us play with QB smh. Some bullsh**," tweeted safety Kareem Jackson.
Added tight end Noah Fant, "I’m not one to complain, but @NFL y’all can’t possibly send us into a game without a QB. The most important position to a offense. We don’t even got a back up...."
Again, the league's enforcement of rules did not go over well.
"Sadly, stuff like this doesn’t even surprise me anymore man! @NFL @NFLPA," tweeted veteran linebacker Joe Jones.
The Broncos' situation began to unravel Saturday afternoon as Lock, Rypien and Bortles were pulled from practice five minutes before it was scheduled to start.
The chain of events left players a bit perplexed. The quarterbacks last had contact with Driskel, who had no symptoms, on Wednesday. They were cleared to practice Thursday, coach Vic Fangio canceled practice Friday after Diontae Spencer's positive test, and Saturday the quarterbacks were told to isolate as the league worked through issues and remained in communication with the Broncos regarding additional contact tracing information.
The additional review revealed that the Broncos were not forthcoming about their interactions and were deemed to have met for a lengthy period without masks on, though they were social distancing, per sources.
Earlier in the week, the league sent a memo to teams regarding the updated COVID-19 protocols. According to NFL Network, one of the first sentences read: “MASKS SHOULD BE WORN BY EVERYONE AT ALL TIMES!” As such, the game remains on as scheduled. Competitive balance is not a deciding factor.
The Broncos lost their bye week in October after the Patriots had multiple players test positive for COVID-19, leaving Broncos players confused why they were not afforded the same luxury.
"Did we use all our game delays when the pats had their Covid issues?" nose tackle Mike Purcell tweeted.
Lock, Rypien and Bortles have no symptoms and have taken extra daily COVID-19 tests with negative results.
Broncos coach Vic Fangio explained Thursday how the trio was cleared earlier in the week.
"No, the other quarterbacks were only on there minimal amounts, like two minutes and some seconds -- four minutes. That's over a three or four day period," Fangio said. "They thoroughly checked those guys that were on the two minutes, three minutes, four minutes, and they came back and said nobody else needs to go on the list and they cleared us to have normal activities and normal practice (Thursday).”
Multiple players were not happy that the Broncos practiced Thursday. Fangio said he was given permission to work out Friday, but he chose to shutter the workout after Spencer landed on the COVID-19 restricted list.
Broncos player representative Brandon McManus tweeted about the topic on Friday.
"Need a league wide decision tree. Can’t have some facilities shut down and others stay open and risk exposing more players when they just practiced with a positive player," McManus tweeted.
The Saints were scheduled to arrive in Denver on Saturday afternoon. Earlier this week, the NFL moved the Ravens-Steelers game from Thursday to Sunday and eventually to Monday after an outbreak among the Ravens. This is the first instance where an entire quarterback room has been impacted.
A few Broncos players showed a sense of humor the stunning developments. Von Miller posted a picture on Instagram of him dropping back to throw a pass and rookie Jerry Jeudy threw his cap into the mix.
"Guess ima have to get my Lamar Jackson on," said Jeudy, who grew up playing against the Ravens quarterback, before adding, "NFL really gonna do us like that doe."