If we didn’t know it already, 2020 is going to be one of the weirdest NFL seasons of all time as COVID-19 alters how teams are doing business. This is certainly reflected in the moves made by the Dallas Cowboys last weekend to form their roster and practice squad.
Much like the strike year of 1987 and the use of replacement players, we will likely always look back on this season as an oddity and perhaps even with an asterisk. Even before a real game’s been played, things have happened in the preparation phase which defy traditional logic.
Just look at Dallas signing 34-year-old Brandon Carr, a 13-year veteran with 192 career starts, to their practice squad. This wasn’t possible before given Carr’s many years of NFL service.
Thanks to the unique rules of this season, the Cowboys are able to have a few players on the practice squad regardless of experience and accrued seasons. They can also protect Carr’s rights as one of their four designated players and use him in Week One even from the PS. Then it will be up to Dallas if they want to sign Carr to the 53-man roster after the first game, which make avoid his contract being fully guaranteed.
Again, this never happens before 2020. Dallas would have either just signed Carr after final cuts or waited until after Week One for the non-guaranteed contract. But he never would’ve been eligible for the PS, nor would have been able to play in the season opener without being on the official roster.
Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t a complaint. I applaud the Cowboys for using the rules to their advantage like Bill Belichick would.
We’re also seeing the 2020 effect at linebacker. With no preseason games for other teams to watch or play in, the Cowboys felt more comfortable sending a camp standout like UDFA Francis Bernard to the practice squad. The fear of poaching isn’t what it’s been in standard years.
This risk is amplified by the fact that Sean Lee is starting the year on injured reserve and Luke Gifford also has some nagging issues. But not only did Dallas not protect Bernard, they also made Justin March part of their final cuts on Saturday. However, they quickly re-signed March the following day after moving Lee to IR.
Backup LB Joe Thomas, who will be a key player to start 2020 with Lee injured, was released on Sunday to make room for the addition of WR Malik Turner. But then Dallas turned around and also re-signed Thomas once they cleared roster space with their IR moves.
Is your head spinning yet? This dizzying series of transactions at linebacker just highlights how teams are playing a different game this year when it comes to roster management.
Also, keep in mind that going to injured reserve doesn’t mean what it has in the past. Players placed on IR only have to stay three weeks before being recalls, and teams get unlimited recalls in 2020. So that’s why guys like Lee and OT La’el Collins, who only need a few weeks to get back to action, are going there instead of taking up roster spots as gameday inactives.
If you think it’s crazy now, imagine how much more intrigue will come when the games start. The potential for a key starter to test positive for COVID on game day, last-minute swings of players from the practice squad to the active roster, the brief poaching window teams still have in the early part of the week; we’re going to be reporting on stuff this season that we never have before.
In the end, just give us some football and we’ll be happy. But just be prepared, as the last few days have illustrated, for an NFL season unlike any other.