The trees are bare. The weather is cold. ABC Family is running their Christmas marathon.
It’s now December and that means one other thing.
Protect your practice squad players.
The further the NFL goes into its season, the more likely practice squad players are likely to be poached by other teams. It’s only natural. Injuries pile up, some teams know their season is over, and they look for young guys they can bring in evaluate, and potentially offer a futures contract to when the season finally concludes.
The list of players being poached continues to grow by the day.
So the most relevant question is: do the Pittsburgh Steelers have anything to be worried about?
They have given B.J. Finney the maximum salary for the practice squad, in an obvious move to attempt to keep the rookie on the team. Finney appears to be the most likely to be at risk, a surprise UDFA I’m sure several teams were high on but just weren’t able to land. He is a life-long Steelers’ fan, but it would be tough to turn down the opportunity to be on the 53 man roster of another squad.
Tyler Murphy is arguably the next, and maybe the only other, player at risk to be poached. A good athlete, Murphy surprised many – myself included – with his football IQ and ability to interchange between quarterback and receiver. He’s gotten a cup of coffee in the NFL, first as a receiver in the initial two weeks of the season and later serving as the #2 quarterback against the Kansas City Chiefs. It’s an attractive skillset for opposing teams, and I bet Murphy is getting paid handsomely on the taxi squad right now.
No one else of this group stands out. The likes of L.J. Fort and Shakim Phillips seem relatively safe and it would be reasonable to say players like Matt Feiler, Xavier Grimble, and Isaiah Frey are very unlikely to be scooped up. But the NFL is unpredictable and you never know when a team will show interest.
The odds of losing a player is still low and teams are given the option to promote that player to their own 53, as was possible in the case of promoting Anthony Chickillo, Doran Grant, and most recently, Fitzgerald Toussaint. But the later we work into the year, the more those odds slide up, Price Is Right Cliffhangers game style.
It’s just another element to watch over the home stretch.