Emmanuel Sanders, the New Orleans Saints' second-leading receiver this season, is out for Sunday's game against Carolina after landing on the reserve/Covid-19 list.
Sanders practiced Thursday, but was not on the field with his teammates Friday as they moved toward finalizing preparations for their Sunday noon kickoff in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, scheduled to be played in front of the largest home crowd (3,000 fans) for New Orleans this season.
"We found out (Thursday)," Saints Coach Sean Payton said Friday. "He wasn't feeling well. Right away, (Director of Sports Medicine) Beau (Lowery) sent him to our doctors for one of our tests. That came back positive. After that happened, we traced those players he was around, coaches – we actually tested about 20 more people that might have been near him, and those all came back negative.
"(Cornerback) Ken Crawley, for instance, came back with a time frame that puts him out, so he'll show up as Covid but without a positive test. It's more of a precaution."
Sanders leads the Saints' receiving corps with 26 catches for 304 yards and two touchdowns, trailing running back Alvin Kamara (38-395-3) in all three categories. His presence and production increased especially in the last two games, when he caught 18 passes for 215 yards.
Detection on Thursday allows New Orleans more time to adjust the game plan. The Saints already are thin at the receiver position; Michael Thomas, who missed the previous four games, was limited in practice Wednesday, and did not practice Thursday or Friday due to ankle and hamstring injuries. He, too, was declared out on the Friday injury report.
"It's part of the deal this year," Payton said. "We talk about the distractions and focusing on the things you can control. (Thursday) night, we spent a lot of time relative to how we want to put the plan together in place of (Sanders), and we'll do so accordingly.
"(We had) a lot of different guys working at different positions. We had good work today."
New Orleans already has witnessed a fair portion of adversity this season. In addition to Thomas' injuries and absence, six starters – Thomas, defensive end Marcus Davenport, left guard Andrus Peat, tight end Jared Cook and cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Jackrabbit Jenkins – sat out the victory against Detroit recovering from injuries.
And prior to playing Detroit, fullback Michael Burton had a false-positive test for Covid-19, requiring through-the-night testing for Burton and the players who sat in close proximity to him during the charter flight to Detroit.
"At the start of the year, we began talking about some of the challenges coming into the season," Payton said. "I think we've had a good focus. We had a good week of practice. Carolina (with virtual workouts on Monday and Tuesday, and having two players rejoin the team this week from Covid-19 reserve) is experiencing the same thing."
Right tackle Ryan Ramczyk said the situation is "difficult," but not all-consuming.
"At the end of the day, it's not something that it's eating away at you all the time and you're thinking about constantly," he said. "At the end of the day, we're still coming here doing our job and doing our work."