As of the time of this writing, final terms have not yet been made concrete, but it remains the expectation that the NFL will retain many of the COVID-19-driven personnel tweaks from last season, perhaps permanently. These included the expansion of a 16-man practice squad and a three-week window for eligibility to be reactivated from the Reserve/Injured List.
A memo sent out to teams on Thursday seemed to hint at that idea, “in light of the substantial roster flexibility in place for the 2021 season”, as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes, but he also emphasizes that rules are yet to be finalized.
The smartest thing that the NFL did last season was to make it a lot easier for teams to gain access to personnel. While the ability to elevate two players per week from the practice squad was already a part of the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement, they also allowed an unlimited number of COVID-19 replacement call-ups, equal to the number of players a team is forced to place on the Reserve/COVID-19 this. At times, for some teams, this reached a dozen or more.
Another element that was already in the 2020 CBA was the expansion of the practice squad. But it was supposed to increase from 10 to 12 last season, and then to 14 in 2021. We may now see them retain the 16-man practice squad, which makes it easier, for example, for teams to carry extra specialists or quarterbacks.
The biggest change, however, and one that was a long time coming, was the re-visitation of the Reserve/Injured List rules. Previously, teams would only be permitted to activate two players from the list per season, and they would have to be there for at least eight games (previously eight weeks in the event of a bye week). Now, any amount of players can return to the 53-man roster, and only have to wait three weeks.
Frankly, these changes should not only remain in place for the 2021 season, as COVID-19 continues to impact the country, but also indefinitely, as they are obviously sensible measures that are more in line with what other major sports leagues do. No other major league has such a penalizing injury system as that which the NFL has used for so long.