Report: NFL Practice Squads Could Expand to 16 Players Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

FILE - In this Dec. 15, 2019, file photo, The NFL logo NFL is on the goal post at Heinz Field before an NFL football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Buffalo Bills in Pittsburgh. Disabled Sports USA, with funding from the NFL and the Bob Woodruff Foundation, plans to launch a league in the fall. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

NFL practice squads may expand from 10 to 16 players during the 2020 season to account for potential positive COVID-19 tests among teams’ active 53-man rosters, per Mike Garafolo and Judy Battista of NFL Network.

Practice squads were already set to expand from 10 to 12, per Garafolo, who also noted that the NFLPA must sign off on the change.

On June 8, the NFL released a list of protocols and guidelines for players’ returns to team facilities in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

They include mandating mask-wearing within the facility and reconfiguring locker rooms to allow for six feet of separation between players, per Kevin Patra of NFL.com.

Per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, the NFL may also shorten the preseason from four to two games to allow for a greater “ramp-up” period considering that players have been unable to work out at facilities since March because of COVID-19.

The lead-in to the 2020 NFL season will be unlike anything ever seen since the league’s start in 1920. Changes will continue to occur to account for the pandemic, especially with vaccines likely being unavailable before the start of the regular season on Thursday, Sept. 10.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday that he believes the United States could have 200 million doses of a successful vaccine in early 2021.

Until then, the NFL might have to make adjustments on the fly as the league works to even have a season. Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer, said in a conference call with reporters (h/t Nick Shook of NFL.com) on Wednesday that protocols are still in the works. As Shook noted, “the overarching theme of the process is essentially everything remains fluid.”

And that fluidity may involve a quick change to the practice squad roster max fewer than three months before the start of the season.

As Dr. Sills noted, “anyone who tests positive will be isolated until medically appropriate to return,” meaning the distinct possibility of players missing games. That would necessitate more flexibility with the practice squad, which is what the increased max number allows.

The change also looks imminent based on a report from Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, who called the move a “fairly obvious one-year fix that’s likely coming.”

Ian Rapoport of NFL Network also said that the switch would be a “positive development.”

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