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Debunking the myth of the 55-man NFL roster

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With the roster expansion rules with the new CBA, some are mistakenly thinking the Steelers will have less cuts to make.

Pittsburgh Cityscapes And City Views Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

As NFL teams attempt to begin training camp on schedule, speculation as to who will make the Steelers final roster heading into the regular season abound across various outlets. In fact, I published my pre-training camp 53-man roster prediction just recently.

Notice on my prediction, the number is 53. With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement being signed in March, there were changes to the rules which some people are still finding to be somewhat difficult in understanding exactly what the Steelers will have to do during the cut-down period.

While teams will be able to carry as many as 55 players on the roster for game days, they will not have 55 players at all times. In order to understand how these circumstances work, first I will reference the section of the CBA in which it is explained. If reading the technical jargon is not your thing, just skip past this section for the explanation.

Section 4. Active and Inactive List Limit:

(a) During the regular season and postseason, a Club’s Active/Inactive List shall not exceed 53 players unless a Club has chosen to elevate either one or two players from its Practice Squad to its Active/Inactive List, in accordance with the procedures set forth in Article 33, Section 5 of this Agreement. In such instances, a Club’s Active/Inactive List shall not exceed 54 or 55 players, as may be applicable, during the period beginning with the player’s elevation to the Club’s Active/Inactive List, and ending with the player’s automatic reversion to the Club’s Practice Squad. By way of example, if a Club’s Active List is 47 players, and the Club activates two players from its Practice Squad to its Active/Inactive List, the Club’s game-day Inactive List will be eight players.

(b) In accordance with Article 33, Subsections 5(d) and 5(e), any elevation of a player from a Club’s Practice Squad to its Active/Inactive List must occur no earlier in the week than the final day for such player personnel transactions prior to the game for which the player is being elevated, but not later than the applicable player personnel transaction deadline for that day. Any player who has been elevated from a Club’s Practice Squad to its Active/Inactive List shall automatically revert to the Club’s Practice Squad on the first business day following the Club’s game. At that time, all Clubs shall be subject to the 53- player Active/Inactive List limit.

I’m sure that was crystal clear for everyone.

To bounce around to the various sections of the CBA and piece it all together, I’ve been able to come to this conclusion: The Steelers will be carrying a 53-man roster.

When teams have to cut down their rosters for the season which is scheduled for 4 PM on Saturday, September 5, the Steelers will be getting down to a 53 players. After the 24-hour waiting period for players to be claimed on waivers, the Steelers can then sign their 12-person practice squad. Right away, you may notice this is an increase from 10 players in 2019.

Throughout the week, the Steelers will have 53 players on their active roster. Up until the deadline for transactions for their game which is 4 PM the day prior, the Steelers will have an opportunity to elevate two players from the practice squad if they choose. In years past, the elevation of any practice squad player would mean another player would have to be released in order to make room. But with the new CBA, teams can pull up two players each week without having to make an additional roster move. It is this action where the 55-man roster has come into play for the season.

Depending on if a team elevates any players in the practice squad will determine how many inactives they have on game day. With teams able to have up to 48 players active (assuming they have at least eight offensive linemen among those), the inactive list will range from 5 to 7 players depending on if a team has 53, 54, or 55 players on their roster for the week.

As stated above in the CBA, any player pulled up from the practice squad for a game in which another move was not made to make room on the roster will revert back to the practice squad the day following the game. So the day after the game, teams are back to a 53-man roster.

While it makes complete sense for teams to make sure they have 48 players active on game day, going with a 53-man versus a 55-man roster is not as clear-cut. Starting this year, a player can be activated from the practice squad twice in a season before they would be exposed to waivers. Due to this rule, it would not make sense for teams to constantly elevate the same person every week. So if the Steelers are going into a game and they know they will have 48 active players from their 53 man roster, it wouldn’t make any sense to promote a player only to have them inactive on game day.

So what do these new rules mean in shaping the initial 53-man roster?

The biggest reason to remember it is still a 53-man roster and not 55 players is because not every player I s eligible for the practice squad. If a player such as Daniel McCullers ends up being the Steelers 54th person, he is not eligible for the practice squad and therefore would simply be released. As the Steelers are shaping the bottom of the roster, they will be more likely to keep a player without practice squad eligibility on the active roster. So if it came down to two player such as Daniel McCullers and Carlos Davis for the final roster spot on the defensive line, the fact Davis could go on the practice squad and still be available could actually work against him in earning a spot on the 53-man roster.

Now that things has been explained at length, here is the abbreviated version in order to help remember the new rules:

  • Teams carry 53 players during the week with 12 practice squad players
  • Teams can promote up to 2 players from the practice squad the day before the game
  • Promoted players revert back to the practice squad the day following the game
  • Teams can have 48 players active for each game (must have 8 offensive linemen)