It turns out that the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t actually changed everything in our lives, after all. The people who run NFL teams are still every bit as paranoid as ever, although the Buffalo Bills have taken it to a new level by suspending one of their employees for doing what they were paying him to do.
The Buffalo Bills have suspended their own reporter
The Buffalo Bills have banned their online reporter and radio host from covering practices for the remainder of the NFL team’s training camp, The Athletic reported. The website said Chris Brown, who has worked for the Bills since 2006, hasn’t been to practice for a week after apparently violating the team’s media policy. He has also stopped co-hosting the team’s TV/radio simulcast.
Neither the Bills nor Brown have commented. However, he appeared to violate the Bills’ 2020 media policy, which restricts reporting from practices on game strategy, position adjustments, and which players are getting first-string snaps.
The team announced its updated media policy on Aug. 16, The Athletic reported. The following day, Brown went on his One Bills Live show with former special-teams star Steve Tasker and detailed much of what he saw during the first day of practice.
Bills general manager Brandon Beane said the team views practice details as valuable information for rivals like New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. It was less of a concern in the pre-pandemic era because fans could attend practices and go onto social media with their own observations.
This year, though, most teams have banned fans from all practices as a pandemic precaution. In addition, the NFL has canceled its preseason games, which were an opportunity for teams to scout upcoming opponents.
Secrecy in the NFL is at an all-time high
Teams across the NFL have imposed restrictions similar to what reporters covering the Buffalo Bills are facing in the lead-up to Week 1 of the regular season. Everyone carrying a notebook and cellphone is a potential spy for Bill Belichick or Pete Carroll.
Carroll’s Seattle Seahawks only allow reporters to watch 10 minutes of stretching before practices so that they can, in effect, take attendance. When the team scrimmaged last weekend, photographers needed to put down their cameras after warm-ups.
Prior to the pandemic, reporters covering the Seahawks were able to tweet photos and videos from just about all practice activities since fans were present at preseason camps and doing the same thing. Ditto on reporting who was getting first-team snaps, etc.
Now, teams are enforcing an unprecedented level of secrecy to avoid giving opponents any insight into what to expect. Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane admitted that his scouts have been scouring Twitter accounts to look for updates and players and teams around the league.
History suggests there is a good reason to view the new measures as overkill. The day after final cuts are made ahead of Week 1 of the regular season, nearly every team in the league signs players from upcoming opponents to their practice squad for the sole purpose of gathering information on their old team.
The Buffalo Bills are not alone
The Buffalo Bills may have broken new ground by suspending their own reporter, but they’re not the only team making it difficult for the media to do its job.
The Green Bay Packers prohibit any reporting about their starting lineup and have ratcheted up the restriction by banning reporters who watch practices from even projecting who they think might be a starter.
Little of the paranoia has to do with starting lineups. In fact, hard-core fans can probably project 20 of their favorite team’s 22 starters right now. The real issue is the second-tier talent that rival scouts would normally be eyeballing during preseason games.
Practice squad rosters have been expanded from 10 to 16 players this season. Coaches and general managers will be looking to stash promising prospects there after final roster cutdowns. The less that someone like Patriots coach Bill Belichick knows about what’s happening in other training camps, the less likely that a rival will snap up future stars from the waiver wire.
On the other hand, the more time that the Buffalo Bills spend obsessing about secrecy, the less time they’re spending working on a way to finally beat the New England Patriots on the field and return to the top of the AFC East.