2020 Offseason Questions: How Will Additional Practice Squad Spots Shape 53-Man Roster?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the offseason, following a year in which they had high hopes for Super Bowl success, but ultimately fell short of even reaching the postseason at 8-8. It was a tumultuous season, both on the field and within the roster, and the months to follow figure to have some drama as well, especially in light of the team’s failure to improve upon the year before.

The team made some bold moves over the course of the past year, and some areas of the roster look quite a bit different than they did a year ago, or even at the start of the regular season. Whether due to injuries or otherwise, a lot has transpired, and we’re left to wonder how much more will change prior to September.

How will Ben Roethlisberger’s rehab progress as he winds toward recovery from an elbow injury that cost him almost the entire season? What about some of the key young players, some of whom have already impressed, others still needing quite a bit of growth? Will there be changes to the coaching staff? The front office? Who will they not retain in free agency, and whom might they bring in?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: How will the addition of two extra practice squad spots affect decisions about who makes the 53-man roster?

Because I intend to address it separately at a later date, I want to focus today’s question specifically on the introduction of two more spots on the practice squad only, and not take into consideration the implications of the ability for teams to promote two practice squad players to the 53-man roster on a per-week basis. Both of them will, separately and individually, factor into roster-building, but I’m first interested in delving into the practice squad numbers and how that might shape the 53-man roster.

With teams’ abilities to add two more players to the practice squad than they previously were allowed, one does wonder: will more teams more actively use these extra spots purely for players that they want to develop, even if they happen to be very deep at that position? It would seem to be one logical potential usage.

Players who are liked but also do not offer special teams value and are redundant skill-wise may also be retained for depth on the practice squad. I can think immediately of a guy like Deon Cain, who bears similarities in skill set (though, of course, with differences) to guys like James Washington and Chase Claypool, not to mention others signed as futures. In the event of injury, for example, they would have Cain at the ready, having been working in practice all along, to be called up. So to put it into more relevant context, teams may be less likely to carry a redundant player on the 53-man roster with extra room on the practice squad.

For those who may not be aware, the practice squad will expand even further in 2021, up to 14 players. And beginning this year, teams will be allowed to include multiple (I honestly can’t remember if it’s two or four right now) players of ANY level of accrued experience or playing time on their roster. So literally everybody is eligible for the practice squad now. Ben Roethlisberger. Cameron Heyward. Bud Dupree. Maurkice Pouncey. All of them. Technically, practice squad-eligible.

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