TAMPA — The Bucs rely on linebackers Devin White and Shaquil Barrett to be their emotional leaders and best pass rushers. But neither will be able to help them sew up the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs with a win Sunday over the Falcons.
White, Barrett and defensive tackle Steve McLendon were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, the team announced Friday. All three will miss Sunday’s game at Raymond James Stadium, and their availability for the first round of the playoffs also is in jeopardy.
Teams cannot say whether a player is on the reserve/COVID-19 list as the result of a positive test or because of contact tracing.
If a player tests positive for the virus, he must miss at least 10 days and possibly more unless he is asymptomatic. A player who is isolated for contact tracing can return after five days if he continues to test negative.
Barrett’s wife, Jordanna, posted on Instagram that her husband had tested negative all week but was in quarantine for the next five days due to being a close contact of someone who had tested positive.
“Shaquil is negative and has been all week,” Jordanna Barrett wrote. “However, (he) was in close proximity to someone who tested positive so he will remain quarantined for the next five days.” She added: “Sometimes people choose other choices that result in unfair circumstances. But rest assured to everyone asking. We were not the ones who were reckless and exposed the team.”
White reportedly tested positive. In a Twitter post since deleted, White said he had no symptoms and did nothing out of the ordinary to contract the virus.
“Please Stop Tweeting Me!” White wrote in the post. “I Have Had The Same Routine All Season Long … Going To Practice & Straight Home! I Feel Perfectly Fine & Will Be Ready To Go For The Playoff Game.”
Neither White, Barrett nor McLendon practiced Friday.
Which day the NFL schedules the Bucs to play their first playoff game may be a factor in when the players can return. If one or more of the players tested positive Thursday, they could be eligible to return a week from Sunday. If the Bucs, a wild card, have their opening playoff game scheduled for a week from today, a player who tested positive Thursday wouldn’t be eligible to play then because of the minimum 10-day waiting period.
It’s a potentially devastating development for the Bucs, who had mostly avoided having players miss games due to the virus.
White leads the Bucs with 140 tackles, including 15 for loss. His nine sacks rank second on the team. He also has 16 quarterback hits, four passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. More than his production, White is the emotional leader of the defense.
Barrett led the NFL in sacks last season with 19½ and has eight this season. Second-year pro Anthony Nelson, who recorded his first career sack Saturday at Detroit, likely would replace Barrett.
With White out of the lineup, the Bucs will turn to veteran inside linebacker Kevin Minter. When White was out with a knee injury last season, Minter started two games. He finished the season with 34 tackles, including two for loss; two quarterback hits; and a fumble recovery.
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McLendon has provided much-needed depth on the interior defensive line, particularly after the season-ending injury to Vita Vea. The Bucs are suddenly shorthanded at that position since Jeremiah Ledbetter was ruled out Friday with a calf injury.
The Bucs signed linebacker Jack Cichy, whom they waived last month, from the Patriots’ practice squad with the loss of White and Barrett.
The Bucs need a win over the Falcons or a Rams loss to the Cardinals to clinch the No. 5 seed in the NFC, which would mean they would play at the winner of the NFC East in the first round. If they get the No. 6 seed, they likely would head to Seattle for their first-round game.
Contact Rick Stroud at email@example.com or 727-709-5982. Follow @NFLSTROUD.