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Bill Belichick and the Patriots could exploit the NFL’s practice squad rules early this year. Here’s how

Related: Patriots practice squad: New England’s 16-man developmental team is set

New England Patriots v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Few if any people in the NFL know the rule books as well as Bill Belichick. Despite a reputation shaped by some dubious scandals and outlandish rumors, the New England Patriots’ head coach is aware its ins and outs — and also how to take advantage of them.

The 2020 season now presents a prime opportunity for him and his organization to do that again. First, however, let’s back up a little.

Earlier this year, the league and its players association negotiated a new 10-year labor deal. While the move to an increased playoff field and eventually a 17-game regular season made the headlines, other changes made also could play a prominent role. In this specific case, we are talking about the practice squad which moved from 10 to 12 and later, cue to the Covid-19 amendments, to 16 players.

Not only was the practice squad’s size increased, the league also changed promotion procedures: the standard rules still remained in place — practice squad members can be promoted by replacing other players on the 53-man squad; they can only return after being waived and clearing waivers; they must be paid a weekly salary based on their NFL minimum for at least three weeks — the new Collective Bargaining Agreement added another stipulation.

Meet Article 33, Section 5, Paragraphs (b), (d) and (e). The Standard Elevation Addendum.

The SEA allows teams to elevate up to two players per week from their practice squad to the game day roster without having to cut a member of the 53-man team. Game day active rosters, meanwhile, expand from a previous 46 to 47 players, or 48 if a team carries eight offensive linemen. Any practice squad player can be elevated and automatically reverts back to the developmental roster after a game.

Of course, there are some limitations to how the SEA can be applied.

First, teams cannot use this method of promotion on the same player in back-to-back weeks. If the Patriots want to use one of their practice squad players in consecutive games, they will have to go the standard route of promotion outlined above: promote him to replace another player on the 53-man squad and if necessary expose him to waivers if the plan is for him to revert back to the practice squad after a period of time.

Another limit is the number of promotions per player: the SEA can only be used twice a year on an individual player. If New England uses it to promote a player from the practice squad in Week 1 to bring the active roster from 53 to 54 or 55, that player would revert back to the practice squad automatically the day after New England’s game but becomes ineligible to be moved up that way again in Week 2. The Patriots could apply the SEA again on him in Week 3, but after that point he would have to be signed to the 53-man roster if he were to appear in a game again.

With that said, let’s return to Belichick and the Patriots’ potentially using that rule to their advantage early during the 2020 season. Because if we know about how to use the SEA, it is a certainty that he could have a plan in mind for it as well.

This brings us to the kicker situation.

New England parted ways with both rookie Justin Rohrwasser and veteran Nick Folk on roster cutdown day before re-signing both via the practice squad — all while keeping no place kicker on the active 53-man squad.

The Patriots could opt to move one of the up to the active roster again after a potential follow up transaction (running back Damien Harris and defensive tackle Beau Allen, for example, are candidates to be moved to the new three-week injured reserve list). They could, however, also opt to use the SEA in order to keep both on the practice squad and carry a 53-man team with no kickers into the regular season.

What would be the advantage of that? For one, the Patriots would only have to pay them a comparatively low salary of $8,400 (Rohrwasser) and $12,000 (Folk) per week. They also would not have to list either of them on the injury report. Most importantly, however, they would be able to carry an additional layer of depth for four weeks at another position: with no place kicker on the active team, another spot on the 53-man squad is open for competition while the roster itself is settling down over the first few weeks of the season.

How would this work, though? Glad you asked.

The Patriots keep no kicker on their 53-man team heading into the season opener against the Miami Dolphins but would decide to apply the SEA to use either Rohrwasser or Folk for the 54th or 55th spot on the team. The following week, the other kicker would take the spot, and so forth until a final decision has to be made after Week 4 about who would be the top place kicker moving forward. At that point, other positions on the team will have started to clear up as well (the first month, after all, is often seen as an “extended preseason” in New England).

The plan would, at least in theory, also work because teams can protect four players from getting poached by other teams under the Coronavirus addendum to the CBA: those protected can not be signed to another team’s 53-man squad.

So, will the Patriots go forward with this plan? It’s certainly possible, at least considering the rules currently in place.

At the very least, it’s a fun exercise to think about.