The NFL is in uncharted waters, this is why they should expand rosters to 80 active players.
The Kansas City Chiefs rookies reported to the Chiefs practice facilities on Monday to officially undergo their first round of testing for Covid-19 and also to begin training camp. Since the Chiefs are slated to open the NFL season as defending Super Bowl champions on Thursday, September 10th against the Houston Texans they were allowed to have their players report to camp before other teams to begin preparations after what has been a long offseason. It was reported early on that General Manager Brett Veach had been able to sign all the rookies in the 2020 draft class, which should be seen as a win for the team, but it was also reported that the Undrafted Free Agents would have the hardest time of all to make the active roster.
While the move somewhat goes in the direction players have been aiming for, in regards to less pre-season games it will come at a strong cost to rosters across the NFL.
The Chiefs have a number of UDFA’s who in normal circumstances would have a legit chance to crack the active 53, but now those circumstances have become much more difficult. While the pre-season might be a time for starters to knock off rust and gauge their conditioning level, it is often times a place for later round draft picks and UDFA’s to show they belong on the team and also win a roster spot, or set themselves up for a spot on another team or a place on the practice squad. This year there will be no such opportunity, and with most teams deciding to use the first week or so as an acclimation period, it lowers the amount of practice reps, and scrimmage reps players will get to earn a spot.
Eight padded practices is nowhere near enough time for teams to prepare for the first game of the season, let alone allow younger players a chance to learn the playbook and adjust to NFL speed. With the small chance UDFA’s have to make rosters, but the large chance all players have to test positive for Covid-19 it should make the answer quite clear on how the situation should be handled: expand the rosters to 80 players who can be ready to go and suit up for game day at a moments notice.
For this situation, I would say that teams should still only be able to suit up 55 players on game day, but instead of cutting the active player list at 53, and having around a ten-man practice squad, they should have 80 players designated as active at any time. This only makes sense because if a player were to test positive COVID-19 it would mean that until they came back negative they would essentially be out. This could take anywhere from five days to multiple weeks, which is a long time in the NFL, and puts a huge burden on teams to find health replacements, who are also in shape. Having roughly 30 extra players on the roster could help this process while at the same time give jobs to players who might otherwise be out of work.
While the impact that Covid-19 could cause will have the largest threat on player’s health and safety it should also be noted that due to a much shorter off season period, where players get in shape while also doing maintenance to their bodies, could also lead to a much higher injury rate once the season starts. There is being in shape and then there is football shape, the constant pounding of a long season, and also the short term conditioning that it takes to make it through an NFL game are very hard to get through especially with a shortened training window. It is not unlikely that we see an above average amount of injuries this year, but if teams bringing in players off the street this year could be more difficult considering those players would be relatively unsupervised, and could potentially be exposed to Covid-19. It would make much more sense for teams to have replacements ready to go right away from their rosters to fill in for injured or sick players, because they can monitor the player’s conditioning level, while also making sure they are tested in accordance with the NFL’s policy.
The big factor in deciding if this is a legitimate option is if the owners are willing to take on extra salary through the course of the season to be able to have close to 30 extra players ready to go at a moment’s notice. It might cost their pockets in the short term but as the season progresses it could be a move that saves the season. If a team has a high number of players and is unable to find enough healthy replacements it could cause forfeiture of games, which if they aren’t playing would lose the owners more money in the long run. If the NFL were to approve of expanded rosters the Chiefs would almost immediately be at an advantage due to them picking up one of the better UDFA classes in the NFL, which includes Darryl Williams, Javaris Davis, Lavert Hill, Andrew Soho, and Kahlija Lipscomb. More players would need to be brought in but if there is one thing the Chiefs have proven over Andy Reid’s tenure it’s that they can find talent almost anywhere and bring it in to help the team improve. Of course, the salary cap would need to have changes made for all teams in order to accommodate extra teams but these are unusual circumstances, and exceptions should be made to add flexibility in what is looking to be a most interesting season. If teams are able to expand their roster to 80 men, we might see some of Brett Veach’s finest work yet, in what will be a very busy season for him. Even with 80 men rosters there would still likely be added transactions of a normal NFL season which would make the job that much harder, but if anyone can manage to pull it off it would be Veach. We are headed into uncertainty as the season inches closer, but if the wild season I expect to unfold happens then The Kingdom should rest easy knowing that the team will be in good hands with Reid and Veach at the wheel.