The Coronavirus outbreak in the United States has already forced the NFL to adjust to health guidelines and social distancing regulations. Facilities were closed, workouts and the draft held in a virtual setting, and offseason as well as joint training camp practices canceled. What other measures will be taken remains to be seen — playing in front of empty stands and shortening the preseason from four to two games, for example — and it seems like an increase in practice squad sizes also could be on the table.
According to a report by NFL Network’s Judy Battista and Mike Garafolo, the league is reportedly considering expanding practice squads from 12 to as many as 16 players this year in order to give its teams more flexibility when it comes to roster construction and maintenance in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. While the NFL Players Association would have to agree to such a move, the expectation is that it would do just that: more practice squad spots means more jobs for the men represented by the NFLPA.
Increasing the size of the developmental roster would be the second such move in the last few month. Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement ratified in March, practice squads already increased from 10 to 12 players (with another increase to 14 scheduled to happen in 2022). Along the way, the CBA modified not just the compensation structure — practice squad players will mostly be paid uniformly moving forward — but also increased the eligibility by including up to two players with more than two accrued seasons.
Furthermore, the labor deal includes a stipulation that will allow teams to increase game day rosters each week from 53 to 55 players by promoting two members of the practice squad who would revert back automatically on the day following a contest. This so-called Standard Elevation Addendum, which can be used twice on an individual player per season but not in back-to-back weeks, is built the same way as another promotion tool that could become a key element of this potential roster increase from 12 to 16.
The Standard Contagious Disease Addendum was already was in place in the old CBA and is still part of the new one. The only real difference between the SEA and the SCDA is the reason of elevation: under the Disease Addendum, a practice squad player is elevated to replace another player on the 53-man squad in case said player is believed to have contracted a contagious disease like the Coronavirus. As opposed to the SEA, however, this method of promotion can be used more than twice a year per player.
Either way, the New England Patriots and the rest of the NFL will have more flexibility this year when it comes to the practice squad even in case its size does not increase any further.