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Saints explore playing games at LSU; league says a Week 18 is possible

NFL owners met remotely, and afterward league leaders said that while no options have been ruled out, they’re not focused on measures such as pausing the season or using a bubble approach for the playoffs. Commissioner Roger Goodell said the review by the league and the NFL Players Association of the Tennessee Titans’ outbreak is “not about discipline” but safety.

The Saints said in a statement from a spokesman that their game operations staff met Tuesday with LSU officials to discuss the prospect of the team playing games at Tiger Stadium. The team said the school has been “gracious and enthusiastic” about that possibility. The scenario also has been discussed with the NFL, the Saints said.

“Obviously, our overwhelming preference is to play our games in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with partial fan attendance, but there has been no indication from the city on when, or if, this might be approved,” the Saints said.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell (D) wrote on Twitter, “While the Saints’ request for a special exception to the city’s Covid-19 guidelines remains under consideration, allowing [20,000] people in an indoor space presents significant public health concerns.”

The NFL has allowed teams to have some fans at home games when that is permitted under state and local guidelines. The Saints beat the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday night at the Superdome; their next scheduled home game is Oct. 25 against the Carolina Panthers.

Of the possibility of adding a Week 18 to the season, Goodell said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters: “Flexibility is going to be critical. … Fortunately we haven’t had to use many of the things that we have discussed and thought about. But we will have flexibility to be able to complete our season with the Super Bowl.”

The NFL has rescheduled several games, moving some teams’ bye weeks in the process. Such maneuvers would no longer be possible after teams have had their byes.

“The focus is playing the 256 games in the 17-week window knowing that potentially, if the season continues to progress and things happen, the 18th week potentially could be an option there for him,” said Troy Vincent, the league’s executive vice president of football operations.

Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said “all options are on the table” as the league and the NFLPA continue to adjust their protocols. But Sills played down the chances of the season being paused.

“At this point we’re really focusing on compliance with our protocols,” he said.

Sills also expressed skepticism about the possibility of the NFL and NFLPA putting teams in neutral-site bubbles for the postseason.

“The bubble is not foolproof with infection,” Sills said. “It doesn’t take away the need for all of our other mitigation strategy. … Right now today, we don’t feel like that is the safest course of action for us.”

Vincent said the bubble possibility was raised at one point by Saints Coach Sean Payton during a call of the league’s competition committee. But of a report that Dallas and Los Angeles could be hosts for potential NFL playoff bubbles, Vincent said, “That’s actually the first I’ve heard about cities being identified.”

The league and union have been reviewing whether the Titans complied with protocols during an outbreak in which 13 players and 11 staffers have tested positive for the coronavirus since Sept. 24. That probe has included whether some Titans players participated, as reported, in workouts away from the team facility while it was closed.

“This is not about discipline,” Goodell said Tuesday. “This is about making sure we’re keeping our personnel safe. And that’s been our entire focus.”

Goodell wrote in a memo to teams last week that any violations of protocols resulting in schedule adjustments or affecting other teams could result in game forfeits or the loss of draft picks. CBS reported during its Bills-Titans broadcast Tuesday night that it was told by Goodell that no one in the Tennessee organization willingly violated protocols.

“We stressed again today that we cannot grow complacent — not the players, not the coaches, not the rest of our personnel,” Goodell said of the league’s message to owners during their remote meeting. “Ninety percent [compliance] is not good enough in this environment.”

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