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By: Robbie Stratakos
Depth is crucial in any sport, as is a team’s subordinate affiliate (i.e. a minor-league baseball or NBA G-League team). In an unprecedented NFL season where most games will be played without fans and the sport operates against the unpredictability of COVID-19, depth has never been more pivotal.
Yes, you can only have 55 players present during weekly practices (it was previously 53). At the same time, it’s vital that teams have at least a competent roster balance on both sides of the ball. Teams can achieve this by loading up their practice squad. The NFL is allowing teams to carry 16 players, rather than the typical 10, on their practice squads this season to combat any potential health developments.
How is having a capable unit of practice squad players any different in 2020?
If a team adds a player to its roster outside of the facility (trade, free agent signing), that player has to quarantine before showing up at practice. If a player gets hurt on Friday, a team may not be able to sign someone in time to play on Sunday.
If a team promotes a player from the practice squad, quarantine isn’t necessary, as that player is already practicing at or near the team’s headquarters.
In any given year, a team’s quarterback rotation is merely called into question if the starter gets hurt. Think locally: what happens if Sam Darnold or Daniel Jones get COVID-19? The New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts are perfectly prepared for the situation where their quarterbacks can’t play.
“Swiss-army knife” Taysom Hill and former number-one overall draft pick Jameis Winston are behind Saints legend Drew Brees; all three gunslingers are starting-caliber quarterbacks. Meanwhile, the Colts signed Philip Rivers in free agency, who starts in place of 2019 starter Jacoby Brissett, who’s still with the team. The Colts also drafted quarterback Jacob Eason in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
You need starting-caliber players in all phases of the game. That said, teams are no longer one injury away from being in trouble; they’re one COVID-19 contraction away from being in trouble. NFL teams won’t know when they can have that player back, as well as any additional players who were exposed. A team’s ability to assess and get the most out of players in their building looms large this season.