NFL to carry over flexible roster rules for 2021 season

The NFL will carry over a series of 2020 roster rules designed to maintain adequate numbers if players are sidelined by positive COVID-19 tests.

The decision had been long anticipated but was confirmed during a media briefing Friday by Dawn Aponte, the NFL's chief football administrative officer.

The rules include:

  • Expansion of practice squads to 16 players, including up to six who have more than two accrued seasons.

  • The ability to protect up to four practice squad players per week from being signed by other teams.

  • Elevation of up to two practice squad players to the active roster, without removing any current players, before 4 p.m. ET the day before a game.

  • Elevation of an additional practice squad player within 90 minutes before kickoff in the event of a late COVID-19 positive test result.

  • Players placed on injured reserve can return after three weeks, rather than six as in normal seasons.

  • Removal of the limit for how many players can be activated from injured reserve.

The NFL pointed to these rules last season as its reason for refusing to postpone games when COVID-19 protocols put teams at extreme competitive disadvantages, such as when the Denver Broncos were forced to play the New Orleans Saints with all four of the quarterbacks on their roster sidelined. The same will be true in 2021, Aponte said.

"Games will not be postponed to avoid roster issues," she said.

The majority of NFL teams will report to training camp next week. As of Friday morning, 80% of players had at least started the vaccination process, according to chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills. Nine teams have at least 90% of their players in the vaccination process, and all but five teams are at 70% or above, Sills added.

Sixteen NFL teams have hit a vaccination rate of 85% or higher, a source told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.

Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid confirmed Friday that his team was one of the nine teams to reach the 90% threshold and said that 100% of the team's coaches have been vaccinated.

"It's guys just talking to each other, trusting your medical staff, which ends up being important in this. Not everybody understands or has been educated on this or listens. Maybe they have been educated and they're not listening that close. Then you have to make a decision. We've all had to do that. You've got to make a decision on how you want to go forward," he said.

Reid said he would have no message for the 10% who choose not to get vaccinated.

"I'm hoping they all stay safe. That's what I hope. I hope they don't get the virus. That's most important in my eyes, however it's done. Let's keep people safe," he said.

ESPN's Adam Teicher contributed to this report.