Not everything in the world is a zero-sum game. Too much of our civic discourse is framed within the concept of every gain in one area being equally offset with a loss in other areas. It is what I consider to be one of the gravest concerns in how we communicate each other, from private citizens to world governments.
Now, with that said, the inactive list is a zero-sum game. When one player who would normally be on the active list is injured and has to be deactivated, that means another player who ordinarily might not get to dress will do so.
That is what we will see tomorrow afternoon already with the Pittsburgh Steelers, since tight end Vance McDonald has been ruled out for the contest against the Cleveland Browns. My guess as to whom the beneficiary of this injury will be is the wide receiver position—and for procrastination.
The way the roster shapes up, it is likely that a fully healthy 53-man roster is probably only going to dress five of six wide receivers. With Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster as starters, Ryan Switzer as your return man, and Darrius Heyward-Bey as an integral special teams starter, there are only two options for deactivation.
And at least for this week, the Steelers won’t have to choose between them if they don’t want to. Both veteran Justin Hunter and rookie second-round pick James Washington, who had been dealing with an oblique injury since he suffered the ailment during the third preseason game, could—I would argue should—get the opportunity to dress for the season opener.
According to reports, the beat writers are anticipating that it will be Hunter who opens up as the number three receiver, but if both are dressed, chances are the team will be rotating them. The hot hand could ultimately decide who gets the helmet from that point on.
Hunter was a healthy scratch for most of last season. In the season opener, Eli Rogers and Smith-Schuster rotated in the slot before the latter took over after a game or two after the then-rookie proved that he was able to handle the job.
The coaching staff is likely hoping to see the same sort of quick transition with Washington this season, staking claim to the number three wide receiver position sooner rather than later. McDonald’s injury could help advance that goal, as he otherwise could have been under threat of not dressing for the game.
For those who might be wondering, I would project tomorrow’s inactive list to look something like this: QB Mason Rudolph; TE Vance McDonald; OL Matt Feiler; OT Zach Banner; DL Daniel McCullers/L.T. Walton; S Jordan Dangerfield; S Marcus Allen. Were McDonald to dress, the obvious spot to look for another inactive would be at wide receiver.