Meyer vs. Belichick: Two high-profile coaches, two revealing answers to the same COVID-19 question

Bill Belichick has mastered the art of answering media questions over the years. Urban Meyer, however, has a lot to learn.

Bill Belichick’s news conferences are designed to be a masterclass in confusion and obfuscation. They’re choose-your-own-adventure sessions that leave plenty of room for interpretation. Urban Meyer, for better or worse, is incapable of playing that game.

Urban Meyer gives insight into player personnel decisions

There’s little doubt what’s on the mind of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ first-year head coach. And sometimes, like Tuesday night, it gets him into trouble.

Asked if a player’s vaccination status played a role in roster decisions as Jacksonville cut its roster down to 53 players, Meyer responded:

“Everyone was considered,” Meyer said. “That was part of the production, let’s start talking about this, and then also, ‘is he vaccinated or not’? Can I say that that was a decision-maker? It was certainly in consideration.”

Reporters love candor and want more of it.

The NFL and NFLPA, in this situation, do not. Teams are forbidden from using a player’s vaccination status as a factor, and Meyer’s comments have already triggered a union investigation. The Jaguars could be punished for admitting to something that, frankly, the vast majority (if not all) teams do, just more discreetly.

Fast forward 12 or so hours to Belichick’s first media availability since the New England Patriots cut Cam Newton, who is unvaccinated.

Belichick was asked if Cam’s status played any role in that decision (which we and many others have heard it did).

His response?

“No.”

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Bill Belichick states he’s not using vaccination status when making decisions

A few questions later, there was a follow-up by a reporter who correctly pointed out that Newton’s refusal to get vaccinated puts him at far greater risk of missing a game even without a positive test. (Close contacts are enough to sideline them for a week.)

That’s when Belichick gave his most interesting answer of the day:

“No, you guys keep talking about that, and I would just point out that … the number of players and coaches and staff members that have been affected by COVID in this training camp who have been vaccinated is a pretty high number. I wouldn’t lose sight of that.”

Belichick later added: “We have other players on the team who aren’t vaccinated, as I would say, probably does every other team in the league. We’ve had minimal throughout the league. There’ve been a number of, quite a high number I would say, of players who have had the virus who have been vaccinated, so your implication that vaccination solves every problem, I would say that has not been substantiated based on what’s happened in training camp [throughout the NFL] this year. That’s all.”

Jaguars attempt to clarify Meyer’s comments

This response — while technically accurate — isn’t the full story. Yes, there have been multiple breakthrough cases in the league. But NFL data has shown that unvaccinated infections are seven times more likely than vaccinated infections.

Furthermore, he ducked the broader point. Even without a positive test, Newton was in danger of missing games. His availability would be a question on a week-to-week basis.

Belichick is a smart guy. He knows all this. Call it savviness, call it disingenuousness, call it whatever you like. But it’s an answer that will not get him in trouble with the league.

On Wednesday morning, the Jaguars came to the same realization, slightly walking back Meyer’s comments in a statement:

“Availability is one of the many factors taken into account when making roster decisions. We have vaccinated and unvaccinated players on our roster, and no player was released because of their vaccination status. Ultimately, decisions are based on a player’s ability to help the Jaguars win. We educate our players and respect personal decisions as it pertains to the vaccine. We want to keep our players, staff and families safe as we comply with protocols related to both health and safety and competition on game days.”

Adam Beasley is the NFL Insider for Pro Football Network. You can read all of Adam’s work here and give him a follow on Twitter @AdamHBeasley.

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