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Practice squad rules, eligibility: In 2020, this won’t be your ordinary practice squad

The rules are different, and so are the factors teams must consider in building their practice squads

NFL: NOV 20 Jaguars at Lions
Carson Tinker

Wednesday’s signing by the New York Giants of long-snapper Carson Tinker might well be an indication of how NFL teams will have to think differently about structuring their practice squads for the 2020 season.

COVID-19 is a reality that NFL teams have had to deal with in a number of ways. One of those ways will be in the practice squads that can begin to be structured on Sunday afternoon, once players cut on Saturday as teams reach the 53-man roster limit clear waivers.

There are some key differences in practice squad rules for the 2020 season:

  • Rosters have been expanded to 16 players. That is up from the 12 that were negotiated in the original Collective Bargaining Agreement.
  • Up to six of those players can have an unlimited amount of NFL experience.
  • In anticipation of the idea that players may test positive for COVID-19 the night before or morning of a game, teams can elevate players from the practice squad up to 90 minutes prior to kick off.
  • There are four “exception” players, meaning four who can have some NFL experience
  • Each week, teams can protect four practice squad players who cannot be signed to an active roster by any of the other 31 teams.

Giants’ GM Dave Gettleman addressed the added importance of the practice squad during his Wednesday videoconference.

“Really and truly, because of the protocols that are going to be in place during the season, your immediate help is going to be the practice squad guys, because anybody, whether it’s a waiver, a trade, a claim, taking someone off somebody else’s practice squad, or bringing in a street free agent, is going to require time,” Gettleman said. “You can touch them, but they can’t come in your building and they can’t practice. The practice squad is going to be really important, how you set those up, because those guys are going to be your immediate help.

“At the end of the day, you’re really going to have to really be very intentional about your practice squad.”

What might “very intentional” mean? Rather than simply adding the best players you possibly can to your practice squad teams will have to consider making certain they are covered at as many positions as possible.

Coach Joe Judge said Wednesday that the Giants will have to consider “a mix of both of those avenues.”

“I think, ultimately, you want to keep the 16 best players who you can help develop and grow within your program. At the same time, for the season we’re about to go through, there are considerations you have to have based on your own team’s depth, as well as necessary positions that you may want to provide some insurance with, going through this season.”

In the case of Tinker, the Giants already have a proven long-snapper in Casey Kreiter. Tinker has 69 games of NFL experience, but mostly due to injuries only five of those games have come in the last three seasons. It seems likely that he was signed as an insurance policy, destined to be one of those experienced practice squad players.

“I think we’re all very aware of the sudden change you can have at any position group or a team, based on some kind of testing or protocol that may get flagged. We have to be ready as an organization to always be prepared and have guys ready to play in the game,” Judge said. “We’re talking about that right now. It’s going to have to be a longer conversation that we’ve already started between where we balance out keeping the 16 best, and which positions do we absolutely want to insure that we have. Both parts are a conversation.”