Buried deep within the NFL's 21 proposed rule changes were a series of suggestions that would provide what I think is much-needed roster flexibility, especially in an era that has made player safety a key emphasis and when time for player development has been squeezed.
Most would entail increased costs, minor on an industry scale but a factor nonetheless, so I would bet their chances for approval aren't high. Still, this is a positive discussion and a sign that -- one day -- teams might not be as constricted as they are now. Let's run through them individually while we have a moment:
Expanded game rosters: At the moment, teams must deactivate seven of their 53 players on game day. That 46-man limit created problems on a number of occasions last season, notably as it related to depth in games on short rest. So the Washington Redskins have proposed allowing 49 active players for games not scheduled on Sunday or Monday (i.e., Thursday). The purpose of game-day deactivations is to give opposing teams an equal number of available players -- typically each has a different number of moderate injuries that require a week off but not a trip to injured reserve -- but 46 cuts it pretty tight. I would love to see 49 for all games, as would most coaches, but making the adjustment for Thursday night games would be a good start.
Bigger practice squads: Last season, as we discussed at the time, the NFL seemed to be experiencing a crisis of depth as much as a rash of injuries. Young players have less time than ever to develop before they are thrust into signification situations -- an issue further sharpened by the record number of underclassmen who declared for the 2014 draft. Most teams populate their practice squads solely to ensure a fully-stocked scout team, but two additional spots could convince some teams to broaden that vision. I know what I would do: I'd always have two quarterbacks on the practice squad given how important the position is. If I get one decent backup out of a multi-year emphasis on the practice squad, I'd consider it a win.
Flexible injured reserve (IR): This proposal would expand on the recent change to allow one player per team to be activated from IR (after a six-week stay) each season. In essence, every player on IR could return after that six-week time period. In this scenario, teams would feel less compelled to carry a moderately injured player on their active roster and conceivably would have more healthy players available each week. Sounds good to me.
Roster cutdowns: This proposal is minor but still worth noting. There would be no cutdown to 75 players during the preseason. Instead, teams could take their full training camp roster through the entire summer before cutting to 53 players by the Saturday after the final preseason game. There is a player safety element here that would limit repetitions required for established veterans, but mostly the change would give teams maximum time to evaluate and develop their young players.
Again, I wouldn't be shocked if each of these proposals is rejected or at least tabled. As we discussed Wednesday, change comes slow in the NFL. But roster flexibility directly impacts player development, which is something everyone in the NFL should be interested in.