Roster flexibility should extend to last-second COVID-19 scratches

Tennessee Titans v Baltimore Ravens
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The NFL’s roster flexibility rules for 2020 allow teams to activate up to 16 practice-squad players up to 90 minutes before kickoff. After that point, however, the game-day roster locks in place.

The Ravens learned that lesson the hard way on Monday. Receiver Dez Bryant tested positive after the 90-minute window closed, and by rule they couldn’t elevate another player from the practice squad or the inactive. The circumstances forced them to go with one fewer player.

If the goal is to ensure full flexibility given the pandemic, why not let a team that suddenly loses a player activate a replacement?

Making this adjustment even more appropriate is the fact that teams have some discretion when it comes to the timing of game-day testing. If a team gets players tested early enough to have results returned before kickoff, the prospect of losing one or more players without the ability to replace them provides no incentive to do the right thing and get players tested as early as possible.

The league has adjusted a wide range of rules for 2020, due to the pandemic. Why not make this change given what happened to the Ravens? If teams know they won’t be potentially penalized for getting game-day testing done as early as possible, teams will be more likely to do just that, resulting in more opportunities to identify players who may be positive and get them off the field, away from the sideline, and/or out of the locker room.