When the NFL and the NFL Players Association agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement in March, the big news at the time was that it meant two more teams will make the playoffs beginning with the 2020 season, and that there could be a 17-game regular season as early as 2021.
But the new CBA also included a few changes to roster and practice squad limits that are worth reviewing.
Here’s a look, with some examples of how they could impact the Seahawks.
Gameday active rosters can go to 48
Since 2011, teams have had to pare down their 53-man regular season rosters to 46 on gameday. But starting in 2020, teams can have up to 48 players active on gameday with one caveat — they must have eight offensive linemen active to use all 48 spots.
A team can have 47 active without having an eighth offensive lineman.
Since most teams don’t rotate offensive linemen in and out of games, many try to get by with seven active on gameday.
Going to eight will assure greater depth on the line in case of injury and also could mean more money in the pockets of some of the linemen. Many Seahawks have bonuses in their contracts for being on the active gameday roster, including each of the four new free agent offensive linemen the team signed in the offseason.
Cedric Ogbuehi, for instance, will get $31,250 for each game he is on the active roster, or up to $500,000 for the season. He’s projected at the moment as a backup swing tackle, and the added roster spot could help him earn that money.
Going to 48 active also simply means two more players for the team to use each week, and a chance for a few more players to get some more snaps on Sundays.
Teams can freely add two practice squad players each week
Teams can also have up to 55 players on their roster on gameday instead of the current 53. But they can only do that by promoting two players off the practice squad week.
This is one of the concessions owners made to calm concerns about the wear and tear on players of adding a 17th game, with the idea being that each week a team can add two players the day before the game who could add depth at a spot of need.
The new rules also mean teams can call up and send down a player from the practice squad twice during a season without having to expose the player to waivers, as was the case previously.
Last season, for instance, if a player came up to the 53-man roster from the practice squad, another player had to be waived, and could be claimed by any team. Now, not only does a team not have to create an opening to add player or two but it can then just send that player back down to the practice squad following the game. But, it can only do that twice a year for each player.
As an example, if Anthony Gordon was on the practice squad as a third QB (at the moment he’s actually the only other QB on the roster aside from Russell Wilson) and the Seahawks decided they needed a third QB for whatever reason, they could call him up on Saturday and send him back to the practice squad on Monday.
But to reiterate, they could only do that twice a year with Gordon. If they wanted him a third time then the old rules would apply, meaning he’d either have to stay on the 53-man roster or clear waivers to return to the practice squad.
Players who get called up will get paid an NFL active roster player salary for that game, or at least $35,882, meaning teams will also be able to dangle an added incentive in front of practice squad players all week.
Practice squads will now have 12 players and basically anybody is eligible
Practice squads a year ago had 10 players. Starting in 2020 they will have 12 and then that number will increase to 14 for the 2022 season and beyond.
So that obviously means two more practice squad spots a year for players who don’t make the initial 53-man roster, with teams knowing that each week they can have two of those players be on their gameday roster if they want.
What still applies, though, is that any player waived at the cutdown to 53 has to clear waivers first before he can be signed to the practice squad.
But in another significant change, eligibility rules for the practice squad have been altered so that two of the 12 players on the squad can have an unlimited amount of previous NFL experience.
Previously, players could have no more than two accrued seasons (an accrued season is any year in which a player has been on a regular season roster for six or more games) to be eligible for the practice squad.
So that means that, say, a 33-year-old player with 10 years of experience could be on the practice squad. This could come into play for something specifically like a quarterback battle where a team won’t want to lose a young player but would still want to keep a veteran around. Now, a team could feel comfortable knowing it could have a vet on a practice squad it could call up at any time if needed.
Recall in 2017, Seattle faced a decision on its backup QB of either veteran Austin Davis or then second-year player Trevone Boykin. They ended up keeping Davis as the backup because he had no practice squad eligibility while Boykin did and that was the only way to keep all three. Now, the Seahawks wouldn’t face that same sort of dilemma.
There’s one big caveat to that, though — teams can no longer pay practice squad players as much as they want.
Instead, practice squad salaries are now set for this year at $12,000 per week for veterans with more than two accrued seasons and $8,400 for everyone else.
There has always been a minimum practice squad salary.
But in the past there was no maximum and teams could use the inducement of a higher salary to get a player to agree to stay on a practice squad and not sign with another team’s active roster. One example is former Seahawk defensive back DeShawn Shead, who got a full active roster salary in 2013 to stay on the practice squad and not go elsewhere to an active roster. He was needed late in the year when injury and suspensions hit and called up to the active roster and ended up playing in the Super Bowl.
Will longtime vets want to stay on a practice squad making a fraction of what they did in the past?
It’s better than no job at all.
If nothing else, the rules changes will make for a lot of interesting movement at the bottom of NFL rosters each week, and maybe a few more opportunities for players young and old alike.