The NFL has implemented changes to the practice squads in 2020 related directly to the coronavirus pandemic. Because it takes longer to get players into a team’s building with testing, the league expanded practice squad rosters AND allowed for protection of players, meaning other teams can’t poach certain players on a team’s practice squad. This helps ensure they’ll have enough players to field a team on Sunday even if a few folks are sidelined on the COVID-19 list.
For a full breakdown of all the changes, please read our report on the NFL & NFLPA agreement.
Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane went through the details during a press conference on Sunday to explain some of the nuance to the new rules and why another team’s practice squad might not be the way to go.
For starters, a lot has been made about the ability to “protect” players from being signed off the practice squad. Beane indicated that list begins on Tuesday at 4 PM Eastern of a given week. It’s not a seven-day protection where you can keep other teams’ hands off your players indefinitely.
“Those four protective players are [made] on Tuesdays at four o’clock each week,” said Beane. “So it’ll be kind of free access to poach prior to Tuesday at four after games are played. Your entire 16 would be able to be poached. And then on Tuesdays at four, we’ll be able to designate four guys that we have for the week.”
The players you can protect can change from week to week, but keeping four protected practice squad players plus the 53-man roster theoretically gives teams 57 guys to choose from they know can’t be signed to another team. If they’re thin at a position on the active roster, they can make sure they’re covered with a protected player on Tuesday in case they need to elevate a practice squad player(s) on Friday.
Beane elaborated, saying that signing a player from another team’s practice squad or even a street free agent to play in that same week is going to be difficult in 2020. You’re going to see a lot of practice squad elevations because of the testing window.
“Here’s the thing that makes it tricky [signing a guy off the practice squad on a Tuesday],” said Beane. “If we went to go get someone off a practice squad, as the rules are right now obviously things can change, but that’s going to be a five-day entry to get them in our building. So, you claim a guy on Monday, he’s mostly going to be virtually meeting with you until the end of the week. So he may not have a live practice with your team that week. Just as it stands now, just to get them in the building. It’s like a re-entry whether it’s a free agent, whatever. It’s that test day one, test day two, off day three, test day four. So all of those are going to have to [have] negative tests before they can enter our facility.”
And, as Beane explained it, even if they’ve been negative repeatedly at their former team’s facility, the clock restarts at the new team facility.
“Yeah, it makes it really tough,” admitted Beane.
Sp the practice squad is going to be more important than ever in 2020. Six players can have an unlimited number of accrued seasons, which means you can stash veterans on your practice squad if they aren’t claimed elsewhere.