As the United States continues to struggle with the balance of the current global health crisis and maintaining a functioning economy, the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations has risen dramatically over the last week, putting into question if it’s wise to return to sports at all in 2020. Though there’s still optimism that the NFL will be able to have its season this year, it may look somewhat different than we expect. With players testing positive, the league will have weeks this season where players have to sit out due to a positive COVID-19 test.
One of the lingering questions is what happens if a player tests positive for COVID-19 and requires a two-week quarantine? That could have a significant impact on teams and the outcome of the season.
Thinking ahead to the season, the NFL is looking at expanding the practice squad to 16 players in 2020 per Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network.
Per the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, the practice squad was already set to expand from 10 to 12 players this season and 14 by 2022. The new CBA also provided looser restrictions on who could be on the practice squad.
In previous seasons, teams could have up to four players with less than two accrued seasons (more than six games played) in the NFL. The other six had to have less than two accrued seasons.
Now, teams can carry up to two players on the practice squad with any number of accrued seasons in the NFL. They can also carry up to four players with no more than two accrued seasons in the league.
For example, Wide Receiver Noah Brown has two accrued seasons in the NFL. If he’s unable to make the 53-man roster out of training camp, he would still be practice squad eligible. Under the old rules, a player like Justin March would not be practice squad eligible because he has three accrued seasons in the league. Now, even though he has three accrued seasons, the Cowboys could elect to move him to the practice squad if he can’t make the club out of training camp.
The league still has to iron out the details, and the NFLPA would have to approve any changes. However, it’s likely as it would mean an additional 128 jobs for players in the league. And even though those are practice squad jobs, they’re jobs.
Other than having to pay out the practice squad salaries, there’s no reason that teams should have such limited rosters. The game-day rosters increased under the new CBA, and the teams now have an option to “call up” two players from the practice squad each week.
Expanding to 16 would help if teams lose players because of COVID-19. That, combined with the new rules, gives teams an extended look at players they like without having to cut them prematurely. It’s a win-win for the league and the players, and if they’re considering expanding the practice squad, it will happen.