On the Steelers injury report on Friday, the classification of kicker Chris Boswell being out for Week 17 puts the Steelers in an interesting position. Yes, they have kicker Matthew Wright on the practice squad, clear of the Covid protocol, and ready to go at a moments notice. The problem is, Wright cannot be a practice squad elevation in Week 17. Why is this? It’s because he’s already been elevated twice.
The possible elevation of two players each week off of the practice squad to revert back the following day without having to clear waivers is a new rule for the 2020 season. Determined in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, this rule was expanded even more due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Players could be elevated from the practice squad unlimited times if they were designated a Covid replacement, meaning they were replacing a player who was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 List. In other words, any player on a team’s practice squad could be elevated several time as a Covid replacement as well as two additional times as a general elevated move.
In the case of Matthew Wright, when he was elevated in Week 13 against the Washington Football Team and Week 16 against the Indianapolis Colts, both times he was a general practice squad elevation. While the Steelers had a Covid designation available in Week 13, they specifically used it on tackle Anthony Coyle and not on Matthew Wright. Therefore, the only way Wright can play for the Steelers on Sunday is if he is signed to the 53-man roster.
In order for Wright to be signed, the Steelers will have to reduce their roster by one player. So unless there is someone in the Steelers are going to put on the Reserve/Injured List all but ending their season, or the Reserve/COVID-19 List, the only other option is to put a player on waivers and attempt to sign them back to the practice squad. This has been confirmed by Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
If Chris Boswell can't kick Sunday, it looks like the Steelers would have to create spot on 53-man roster for Matthew Wright. He has used up his two promotions/returns from practice squad allowed under new rules. Exception would be if someone is placed on reserve/covid-19 list.— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) December 31, 2020
Last week, the Steelers needed help at the inside linebacker position as Vince Williams and Avery Williamson were the only players available. The Steelers had already elevated Tegray Scales off the practice squad twice, therefore he was signed to the 53-man roster and they released offensive linemen Derwin Gray. Unfortunately, Gray was claimed off waivers by the Jacksonville Jaguars and did not make it back to the Steelers practice squad.
So, which player on the Steelers roster will be exposed to waivers this week in order to sign Matthew Wright? While there are several less-than-optimal options available, the most likely candidate would be linebacker Tegray Scales who was only signed one week ago.
There are several factors into why Scales would be the most likely candidate for the Steelers to release. First, with the return of Marcus Allen from his shoulder injury, the Steelers are not as short at the inside linebacker position as they were one week prior. Although it would be nice to reduce the playing time of Vince Williams by having Scales available, it will likely be absorbed with the combination of Marcus Allen and Avery Williamson.
Another reason scales would be the wisest choice is because he may be the most likely candidate to not be claimed off waivers. Should the Steelers attempt to slide one of their defensive lineman such as Isaiah Buggs, 2020 sixth round pick Antoine Brooks, or even fourth round pick Anthony McFarland, all players who have been inactive for the Steelers on game day in the past, it is much more likely one of these players would get snagged by another NFL franchise looking to bolster their offseason roster.
Yet another reason Scales would be the most logical choice is if Robert Spillane is able to return from the Reserve/Injured List at any point in the postseason. If so, Scales would likely be the player to be released at that time. Therefore, if Matthew Wright is only on the roster for one week and a player such a Spillane is able to come back next week, Wright would be the logical cut by the Steelers.
It’s still not beyond the realm of possibility the Steelers don’t have to put a player on waivers. But the most likely scenarios are not ones Steelers fans would embrace. First, if a player went on the Reserve/COVID_19 List then there would be a spot. Also, if Chris Boswell‘s injury is much worse than what is being reported, he could end up on injured reserve leaving Matthew Wright as the Steelers kicker throughout the postseason.
Fortunately this is the final week in which the Steelers have to be concerned about using a practice squad player who is out of eligibility to be elevated. The NFL announced last weekend players who have already been elevated twice can be elevated without being exposed to waivers throughout the postseason. This per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero:
The NFL Management Council and NFLPA agreed to unlimited practice-squad elevations without a player having to clear waivers during the 2020 postseason, per source.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) December 29, 2020
Previously, a player could only be moved to the active roster twice for a game under the standard elevation.
Stay tuned to BTSC for continued coverage as the Steelers prepare to face off against the Cleveland Browns in Week 17, as well as their anticipated roster move.