I don’t know whether or not they are, but if they’re not, the NFL definitely needs to consider the possibility of adding a team of practice players, or multiple teams, for the 2020 season that are independent and not affiliated with any teams. They will be coached and kept in game-shape, and will be ready to be signed by teams on a moment’s notice. That will be their function.
The XFL used this idea earlier this year, having a ninth team in their league whose sole purpose was to keep a bunch of players ready to be signed by other teams in the event that they became needed and game-ready players were otherwise in short supply.
The circumstances this year for the NFL are, of course, very different. The reason for the creation of these dummy practice teams would be to give teams a buffer against the risk of experiencing a Covid-19 outbreak in the season that requires them to temporarily fill a number of roster spots in a very short amount of time while their players are in mandatory quarantine.
The league has reportedly considered expanded the practice squad from 12 players to 16 players this year to create a bit of a buffer in the event that teams need quick access to players. But it’s easy to conjure up realistic scenarios in which that would not be sufficient.
What happens if you have six offensive linemen all exposed to the coronavirus and they are all forced to go into quarantine, including several starters? You’re not going to have enough backups and players on the practice squad to fill the seven or eight spots needed to comfortably play a game.
Basically, the virus could take out an entire position group. Typically, the practice squad only houses one or two players, perhaps sometimes three, at any one group. So the chances are high that, in the even of an outbreak, you will lose more players than you can restore just through the practice squad.
The beauty of the idea of practice teams is the fact that all 32 teams could have access to practice tape to all of these players. This would solve the problem of bringing in players on a weekly basis to participate in workouts to add to their emergency rolodex.
Instead of all 32 teams having their own personal and limited rolodex of names from private workouts, everybody would have access to the same information about a large group of players, and they would also have the benefit of knowing that they are in shape and ready to go.
Frankly, this is an idea that the league really should explore beyond the pandemic. The XFL’s idea was met with general enthusiasm, simply because it makes a lot of sense. It’s just a good idea, and a way to keep a bunch of players employed who otherwise wouldn’t be—as well as the coaches who would be keeping them ready.