The 2020 NFL season brought many things many of us didn’t expect. Although several games ended up getting tweaked, and entire season was played without missing any regular season contests. COVID-19 protocols were implemented and many things were held virtually which used to happen in person.
Despite all the problems the 2020 season presented, there were some solutions which seemed to be so beneficial they may stick around into additional years. If both the NFL and the Players Association can agree on these items, they could be implemented again this season. According to NFL networks Tom Pelissero, two major changes from 2021 which may last into next season are the 16-man practice squad and different rules regarding the Reserve/Injured List.
Nothing official, but all signs point to the NFL and NFLPA keeping in place for 2021 several of last year’s COVID-related changes to roster rules, including unlimited/faster return from IR and 16-man practice squads, per sources. Those tweaks were popular with teams and players.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) June 2, 2021
The rule which may have the biggest impact on teams in 2021 deals with the 16-man practice squad. With squads already set to expand from 10 players to 12 players in 2020 due to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NFL expanded another four positions in order to help teams prepare for players who might have to go on the Reserve/COVID-19 List. While having the extra players is beneficial, the salary for those players will also count against the salary cap. By having another four players throughout the season, it will cost teams an extra $662,400 towards their salary cap. This is assuming the added practice squad players are playing for the minimum amount which is $9,200 a week for 2021.
When it comes to the IR designation, Pelissero explained how the rule changed for 2020 and why both sides thought it was beneficial.
Both sides particularly liked the modified IR rules, which allowed players to return in three weeks instead of eight and removed the cap on the number of players designated for return. Teams had more flexibility, and players often got extra time to recover from minor injuries.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) June 2, 2021
If the IR rules were to stick around for 2021, teams would be more likely to put players on injured reserve if they know they’re going to be missing at least two games. With players only being able to return after eight weeks being on the IR, and only to being able to do so, players who knew they were going to miss a few weeks still would likely remain on the 53-man roster despite their unavailability. By dipping down to only three weeks a player must be gone would really help with their options in regards to their rosters.
One example using the Pittsburgh Steelers is they had two running backs get their knee scoped during the 2019 season. Because of the injured reserve rules at the time, both Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell Jr were still on the Steelers 53-man roster as they worked back from their surgery. Had the three week rule been established at the time, the Steelers would have been able to bring other players in on the roster during the time lost as these players recovered.
Whether or not these changes will happen for 2021 remains to be seen. Pelissero reported the talks are ongoing but it could still be several weeks until the two sides come to an agreement.
The NFL and NFLPA continue to talk on a variety of issues, so final word on roster rules, COVID protocols, etc., may not come until closer to the start of training camp.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) June 2, 2021
If the NFL were to implement these rules for the 2021 season, there is very little downside. Other than the salary cap issue for the practice squad, these rules would help players, coaches, and front offices handle the 2021 season much better. Hopefully both sides can come to an agreement and do what is ultimately best for the NFL.