David Chao, MD: Which NFL Teams Will Benefit Most from New Roster Rules?

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The Eagles have a 41-year-old quarterback under contract who likely will live 1,500 miles away all season. The Patriots have no kickers on their 53-man roster. 

What gives? 

This NFL season will bring unprecedented roster flexibility and opportunity for creativity. By now, most are aware of the NFL COVID social distancing rules, but there are a host of unique player availability rule changes for that will significantly affect team strategy.

Expanded game day rosters, practice squad changes, COVID lists and major alterations to injured reserve (IR) rules will make for a unique season and will encourage front office ingenuity.

The traditional game day roster will increase from 46 to 48, as long as a team dresses eight offensive linemen. I anticipate every team will take advantage of this new rule. Many teams tried to dress only seven last year and that led to occasions where a tight end had to play on the line.

Last year, practice squads were limited to 10 players and consisted only of young players for development. This year the number is expanded to 16 and six veterans are allowed and there are no time of service limits.

This rule gives rise to the “quarantine” emergency quarterback. Examples are QBs like Josh McCown (the oldest practice squad player ever — his 19 years of NFL experience total more that of typical entire practice squads) and also 8-year veteran Mike Glennon, who is now with the Jaguars. 

Also players can be be called up several times without being exposed to waivers. Perhaps the Patriots cut both kickers to have then both go on practice squad and get called up on an alternating basis for the first few weeks. The purpose of this rule change is to allow for preparation in case COVID hits a team hard.

Any player on the COVID list does not count as a roster spot. Some think this will lead to shenanigans, but my belief is the league will diligently police/verify this process. The NFL does not want to make a mockery of the pandemic.

The IR rule is an interesting change. Teams can bring an unlimited number of players off IR after only three weeks. IR used to be a one-way street for the season and most recently a limited number of players could be designated for return but only after missing a minimum of eight games.  The Cowboys placed La’el Collins and Shawn Lee on IR. They normally would have been carried on the roster as they heal but with the new rule, they will be back in early October. 

It used to be that each team had to manage injuries within the seven non dressed players each week. Now they have increased the dressed players by two, increased the practice squad by six, and tremendously increased roster flexibility with the rules. It will be interesting to see how teams take advantage, as we know they will.

Written by Dr. David Chao

David Chao, MD -- known digitally as Pro Football Doc -- is an expert contributor for Outkick. Chao spent 17 seasons as the team doctor for the San Diego Chargers (1997-2013) and is part of the medical team at OASIS in San Diego where he treats and specializes in orthopedic sports injuries, working with high-profile professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB.

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  1. These new roster rules are just common sense. It’s about time.

    I’m just wondering when the NFL will wake up and take a leadership position with COVID and stop giving credence to the false premise that it’s so dangerous that everyone needs to be constantly tested, masks worn, bubbles, etc. Stop giving gas to the flame.

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