The NFL’s challenge as it relates to the pandemic includes two major components. First, the league must keep the spread of the virus to a minimum. Second, the league must be prepared to backfill roster spots if/when players test positive and are quarantined.
As to the latter, NFL general counsel Jeff Pash said in a Thursday conference call with reporters that the league and the NFL Players Association continue to have discussions regarding roster issues arising from positive tests.
It may not be enough, as previously explained, to simply expand the practice squads from 12 to 16. In the event of a true outbreak that knocks out 10 or more players, teams will need to be able to clear roster spots on a temporary basis and to fill those spots with game-ready players.
Setting aside the question of whether a coach may have a player lie about testing positive in order to stash him for a few weeks on the COVID-19 list, teams may need plenty of players, quickly. And the usual Gong Show process of bringing in a group of tryout players may not be enough, if for example a given position group is decimated and a team is looking at hiring an offensive lineman off the street to protect a quarterback making $30 million or more per year.
The XFL had a ninth team of players, who were kept in game shape in the event one of the eight franchises needed replacements. The NFL may have to set up multiple teams (maybe four), hiring coaches like Hue Jackson and Jeff Fisher to keep everyone ready to go.
Baseball is thinking about something like that. As Jayson Stark of TheAthletic.com recently reported, MLB may have two teams of unsigned players, who would serve as an emergency pool in the event of outbreaks.
If the NFL doesn’t have a similar process in place, things could get very dicey for teams that find themselves down a sizable chunk of the roster only a day or two before a game.