Bill Belichick Has Seen More Opportunities For Players With New Rules

New NFL rules have given the Patriots more roster flexibility this season

by Doug Kyed

Oct 2, 2020

Three weeks into the 2020 season, the New England Patriots have taken full advantage of some of the NFL’s new “operational adjustments.”

The NFL tweaked some of its roster rules this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic in an attempt to give teams more flexibility.

An unlimited number of players are allowed to return off of injured reserve after spending just three weeks on the list. Previously, just two players could return after missing eight games.

The NFL increased practice squad rosters to 16 players (from 10), six of whom can have an unlimited amount of experience. Those practice squad players now can be temporarily elevated to the active list the day before a game and sent back down the day after without going through waivers twice in a season. NFL teams also can protect players from signing to other teams’ 53-man rosters.

The Patriots have not protected any players, but they have consistently kept their practice squad roster at 16 players and even signed five players from that list to their active roster (running back J.J. Taylor, linebacker Cassh Maluia, kicker Nick Folk, cornerback Myles Bryant and center James Ferentz). They’ve temporarily elevated at least one player from their practice squad to the active list in each game. They called up Folk and defensive tackle Xavier Williams in Week 1, defensive tackle Nick Thurman in Week 2 and Thurman and wide receiver Isaiah Zuber in Week 3. It would not be surprising if a defensive tackle was elevated again this week as the Patriots take on the Kansas City Chiefs.

Finally, the Patriots designated running back Damien Harris and wide receiver Gunner Olszewski for return this week after they spent just three weeks on injured reserve. Defensive tackle Beau Allen, center David Andrews and rookie linebacker Josh Uche remain on injured reserve and should return this season.

In the past, Harris and Olszewski either would have had to take up roster spots while injured for three weeks or spend eight weeks on injured reserve. Both players returned to practice this week and could play as soon as Sunday.

“It’s definitely been interesting this year, and it’s provided some opportunities in terms of roster management that we haven’t had in the past,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Friday. “I think probably, you know, the league and the competition committee and all the people that are involved in that will evaluate things at the end of the year. Again, to your point, we’ve all seen quite a bit of roster movement in the first three weeks, and I’m sure that’ll continue. …

“Certainly, it’s provided a lot of options and opportunities for practice squad players to play. You see that on a weekly basis. I don’t know what the average is, but it’s probably got to be at least 30 or so teams that activate practice squad players. And in previous years, probably most of those guys — by far the majority of them — probably wouldn’t have had a chance to play based on prior rules. But if that’s something the league does or doesn’t want to continue, collectively they’ll decide that, but certainly interesting from a comparison standpoint and from giving opportunities to more players.”

The NFL should consider keeping some of these new operational adjustments past the 2020 NFL season. Most of the new rules are benefitting players and teams by providing increased depth and compensation.

Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images
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