As the first Sunday of the regular season begins to unfold, it will do so with unprecedented rules allowing for roster flexibility. The rules come from both the new CBA and from rules put in place due to the pandemic.
The CBA increased practice squads from 10 to 12; the pandemic protocols moved the maximum to 16. The CBA allowed for two members of the practice squad to have unlimited experience. The pandemic rules increased the maximum to six.
The CBA allows up to two members of the practice squad to be elevated to the active roster for game day. For any specific practice squad player, he can be called up and sent back twice without being exposed to waivers. If a veteran is brought up more than twice, he must be released and re-signed to the practice squad.
The pandemic rules allow for four members of the practice squad to be protected each week from being signed to another team’s active roster.
The active roster, via the CBA, has been increased from 46 to 47. Also from the new CBA, a 48th player can be in uniform, if the team has eight offensive linemen in uniform.
The pandemic rules have dramatically changed the injured reserve procedures. Any number of players can be placed on injured reserve with major or minor injuries and designated for return. After three weeks, the player on IR can be returned to the active roster.
Also due to the pandemic, players with COVID-19 or who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 are placed onto a separate COVID-19 reserve list, from which they can be returned when cleared.
If a player on the active roster lands on the COVID-19 reserve list, he can be replaced by a member of the practice squad until cleared. The replacement then returns to the practice squad without going through waivers.
In the event of COVID-19 cases emerging on game day, anywhere from one member of the practice squad to all 16 of them can be elevated up to 90 minutes before kickoff. Under these circumstances, all members of the practice squad who were elevated as replacements return to the practice squad without going through waivers.
While some of the pandemic rules allow for roster manipulation and/or the stashing of players, the league willingly opened the door to that possibility in order to serve the greater goal of ensuring that all teams will have enough players for any and every given game.