By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer
Cleveland Browns center JC Tretter, the NFL Players Association president who has been pushing the league for daily COVID-19 testing all season, tested positive for the virus on Thursday.
So did Vikings running back Dalvin Cook and Saints quarterbacks Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian. But Washington is getting back quarterback Taylor Heinicke.
Tretter posted on Twitter that he was experiencing symptoms and chose to be tested at the team’s facility in Berea, Ohio.
“Unfortunately, I am positive for COVID-19,” Tretter wrote. “I encourage all NFL players to take every precaution available to them to protect themselves, their families and their teammates from this virus.”
The Browns have been hit hard by a spate of positive tests in the past week and were missing 22 players, including Baker Mayfield as well as coach Kevin Stefanski, for Monday night’s rescheduled game against Las Vegas, which Cleveland lost.
On Wednesday, Tretter spoke to reporters for the first time in weeks and discussed the recent challenges for the NFL and players’ union to navigate the uptick in cases due to the omicron variant.
“It has been a trying week or two weeks for everybody,” Tretter said. “This is a new variant. When COVID first happened, we had six months to kind of figure it out and figure out a path forward. In this instance, we had about six days to figure it out.”
Tretter said he had received the vaccine booster, and had chosen to stay away from the facility as the team was conducting meetings virtually. He returned for Thursday’s practice and tested positive shortly before the Browns were scheduled to take the field.
The league relaxed some of its testing policies last week amid the outbreak among the Browns and other teams. Tretter said the union’s position was players need a choice.
“Our membership is a microcosm of the country,” he said. “We have people who are ready to move forward who have done everything that has been asked of them, they have gotten vaccinated and made those decisions, and now, they want to start feeling like, ‘You know what? I am not at risk of serious illness because of my vaccine status. I have done what they have said, and now, I am ready to go back to somewhat normalcy.’
“Then we still have guys who do not want to get COVID and still want to live a more cautious lifestyle. Now, everybody has those choices.”
The Browns (7-7), who play at Green Bay on Christmas, got two more players back from the COVID-19 list as linebacker Grant Delpit and rookie offensive tackle James Hudson III were activated.
Stefanski returned to the team on Wednesday. Mayfield has yet to produce a required negative test. His 10-day quarantine period ends on Saturday, and it’s possible he’ll play against the Packers despite not practicing.
—A person familiar with the situation said both Hill and backup Siemian have tested positive as New Orleans prepares to host Miami on Monday night. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the club had not yet announced Thursday’s transactions.
The situation left Ian Book, a rookie out of Notre Dame who has been inactive for all 14 games, as the only active QB under contract. It appears Book is in line for his maiden NFL regular-season appearance. Running back Alvin Kamara has been the Saints emergency quarterback for several seasons and conceivably could take direct snaps as a wildcat threat.
The latest COVID-19 hit to the Saints came as New Orleans awaits the return of coach Sean Payton, who did not travel to Tampa Bay for the Saints’ victory has worked from home since testing positive for COVID-19 last Thursday. Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen has been serving as acting head coach.
— The Vikings added Cook, who already has his third straight 1,000-yard rushing season and is the only player in the NFL with 1,200-plus yards from scrimmage in each of the last three years. Cook has been following protocols for unvaccinated players. Alexander Mattison, who missed the previous game with COVID-19, has returned and will take over the lead role in the backfield.
— Washington’s Heinicke was activated off the COVID-19 list and was back at practice running the offense. Heinicke is expected to start Sunday night at the Dallas Cowboys after missing the game at Philadelphia while in virus protocol along with backup Kyle Allen.
Practice squad tight end Temarrick Hemingway also came off the list. Linebacker Cole Holcomb went into protocol Wednesday, and Washington is preparing to play without him.
With so many of Washington’s assistant coaches in COVID-19 protocol, coach Ron Rivera ran the scout team defense at practice. Rivera remained hopeful cornerback Kendall Fuller and others could be back in time to face the Cowboys.
AP Sports Writers Stephen Whyno and Brett Martel contributed.
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