One of the new wrinkles that were added in 2020 as a result of Covid-19 was the ability for each team on a weekly basis to protect four players on their practice squad, meaning that other teams would not be permitted to sign them. If a team wants to protect a player for an entire season, they will have to choose to protect him each week.
The protected players for Week One were revealed earlier today, and the following are the players the Pittsburgh Steelers opted to protect: OLB Jayrone Elliott; S Curtis Riley; RB Wendell Smallwood; and DL Henry Mondeaux.
For the first time, teams can protect 4 players per week on their practice squad from being poached. Week 1 protections started coming in today. Among those protected …
• Bucs QB Josh Rosen.
• Titans QB Trevor Siemian.
• Lions QB David Blough.
• 49ers WR Kevin White. pic.twitter.com/WFs0NlJu2s
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) September 8, 2020
It’s interesting and somewhat notable that six-year veteran defensive lineman Daniel McCullers was not among those they chose to protect, but they did want to protect Mondeaux. At least ostensibly, McCullers is the only one on the practice squad capable of playing nose tackle, but perhaps they view Mondeaux as capable of playing there as well.
When it was reported that Mondeaux did not make the final cut, it was said that he was a fringe candidate to make the team, indicating that he had a strong training camp. He also had a strong camp and preseason last year, and stuck to the practice squad throughout 2019. This year, the team opted to keep rookie seventh-round pick Carlos Davis over him.
Jayrone Elliott is a vested veteran outside linebacker who spent several games on the team’s 53-man roster a year ago, largely playing on special teams, but also taking some defensive snaps. He is the only linebacker on the practice squad, with the team keeping only eight in total on the 53-man roster, Ola Adeniyi and Alex Highsmith the backups on the outside.
Curtis Riley was on the initial 53-man roster as the top backup safety because they were able to bring Sean Davis back, so it’s no surprise that the Steelers would opt to protect him. When Mike Tomlin was asked about signing Wendell Smallwood initially, who like Riley and Elliott are also vested veterans, he said that he had in mind the fact that teams could now sign veterans to the practice squad when bringing them in.
There is one blindspot in the current protection rule as it is formulated: teams may only declare players protected for the week beginning on Tuesday. That means that teams can technically attempt to sign a player that another team would plan on protecting if they do so on Mondays. It is possible this loophole will be closed over the course of the year.