Amid a rash of COVID-19 cases on his team, Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy was placed in the NFL’s protocol on Monday and will not travel to New Orleans for Thursday night’s game at the Saints.
McCarthy has said he is vaccinated; vaccinated staffers only land in protocol upon testing positive.
“Although he will not be on the field for the Saints game, McCarthy will continue to direct, and be in involved in, all meetings and game preparations on a virtual basis for the remainder of the week, including Thursday’s meetings in New Orleans,” the Cowboys said in a statement.
Sunday, McCarthy announced that the Cowboys added three assistant coaches and right tackle Terence Steele to the reserve/COVID-19 list on Sunday. Daily testing was implement and meetings shifted to virtual, other than a roughly hourlong walkthrough practice. On Monday, the NFL made all players and Tier 1 and 2 staffers – regardless of vaccination status – undergo testing in enhanced post-Thanksgiving COVID-19 protocols.
“We’re in a cycle right now,” McCarthy said on a Sunday morning conference call with local reporters. “We’re paying close attention to it.”
McCarthy was scheduled to hold another call with reporters Monday morning. It was later canceled.
Assistant head coach Rob Davis will assume head-coaching responsibilities in person, two people with knowledge of the Cowboys’ plan confirmed to USA TODAY Sports. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly disclose the information. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, special teams coordinator John Fassel and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore will also take on additional responsibilities, the person said, in addition to the virtual role McCarthy will continue to play.
Before news of his latest test result, McCarthy said Monday morning that he had moved into a hotel out of precaution due to the COVID-19 spike the club was experiencing.
“Our players have done an excellent job taking the extra step,” McCarthy said early Monday morning during his regularly scheduled appearance on Dallas radio station 105.3 The Fan. “Personally, I’ve moved into a hotel the last couple days. Our climate here is we’re doing the things necessary to give us the best chance each and every week.
“I’m confident and have strong belief that as long as we continue to do that we’ll get to where we want to go.”
The Cowboys announced McCarthy was in protocol shortly after 10 a.m. local time Monday, soon after canceling his 10:15 a.m. scheduled availability for local reporters.
Offensive line coach Joe Philbin, assistant offensive line coach Jeff Blasko, offensive assistant Scott Tolzien, strength and conditioning coordinator Harold Nash and assistant strength coach Kendall Smith will also miss the Saints game while in COVID-19 protocol.
Cowboys tights end coach Lunda Wells has stepped in overseeing the offensive line, offensive quality control coach Chase Haslett guiding tight ends through the New Orleans game plan. McCarthy said offensive consultant Ben McAdoo, a former Giants head coach, will pitch in as well.
Veteran La’el Collins, the starter before Steele supplanted him this season, is expected to start at right tackle. Collins has started 65 games in his career, including 47 of 48 games at right tackle from 2017-19 for the Cowboys. Right guard Zack Martin discussed Sunday how he and Collins are comfortable in tandem after “a ton of reps next to” each other.
Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper, who is unvaccinated, tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 19 and subsequently missed the Cowboys’ losses to the Chiefs and Raiders last week. He was eligible to return to the Star Monday from his 10-day quarantine. The Cowboys will assess his conditioning then determine a game plan for Thursday’s contest against New Orleans. Receiver CeeDee Lamb, who missed the Cowboys’ last three halves with a concussion, is also trending toward a return.
At 7-4, the Cowboys entered Sunday in a two-game lead atop the NFC East race but the gap has narrowed with Dallas’ three losses in the last four weeks. The Cowboys will play three straight division games after this New Orleans trip: at Washington, at the Giants and vs. Washington.
In missing Thursday’s game against the Saints, McCarthy will follow the Arizona Cardinals’ Kliff Kingsbury and Chicago Bears’ Matt Nagy as the third NFL head coach this season to be forced to sit out a contest due to a positive COVID-19 test.