One of the issues between the National Football League and its Players’ Association that was being debated over the last few weeks was how to handle roster sizes once camps open this week. Normally, teams bring 90 players to training camp, then cut down to their final 53-man roster after four preseason games.
However, with no preseason games, a shortened version of camps, and considering COVID-19 restrictions, the two sides had to figure out something different. Late last week, they did.
All teams now have two options:
- Cut to 80 players before Tuesday and practice as a full team every practice.
- Stay at a maximum of 90 players and divide the roster into two groups, practicing separately.
If a team chooses Option 2 in this scenario, those two squads would be:
- Rookies, first-year players, select quarterbacks, and injured players.
- Everyone else.
In either case, all teams must be down to 80 players by August 17. That’s when padded practices can begin. Prior to that, there will be an acclimation period from Aug. 3-11, which will include strength and conditioning and walkthroughs. There will be a “gradual ramp-up” from August 12-16, which includes on-field work starting at 90 minutes and maxing out at 3.5 hours, including walkthroughs.
Any team that chooses to stay at 90 players, for the time being, can elect to cut to 80 and start practicing all together at any point before August 17. Also, once a player is assigned to a group (1 or 2 above) he cannot be changed. He must stay in that group.
We don’t know which option the Bills will choose yet. They have a young, but mostly veteran team. They are returning almost every starter on both sides of the ball, with only a couple of positions legitimately up for grabs. They’re also returning several key depth pieces, and signed some more during free agency. So, it’s going to be tough for lower draft picks, and especially undrafted free agents to make the team.
In 2018, three UDFAs made the final roster out of training camp – wide receiver Robert Foster, cornerback Levi Wallace, and linebacker Corey Thompson. Last season, not one UDFA made it, although several were subsequently signed as the season went on either from the Bills’ own practice squad or as free agents.
The Bills roster currently sits at 88 players. But with so few spots open, general manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott may just want to release eight players right away and get on with practicing and getting their team acclimated as a group.
However, this regime doesn’t like to leave any stone unturned. If there’s a player who can help them, they want him on the team, and don’t want to dismiss anyone out-of-hand. After all, anyone on the roster right now is a player they vetted and decided worthy enough to bring to camp to fight for a coveted roster spot. Keeping the group at 90 and platooning the squads would also give them a chance for some more individualized attention to make absolutely sure they release the right players before August 17.
As a side note, there’s also no clarity on Christian Wade’s situation as it relates to all of this. The Bills would normally have an exempt roster spot for the running back as part of the league’s International Pathways Program. Will that still apply and if so, would it apply only at 90, allowing the Bills 91? Or even at 80 players, allowing them 81?
We’ll find out their approach, and hopefully more, by Tuesday.
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