While there are certainly some years in which you wish you could have a smaller roster, just because you don’t have the talent to justify it, I think more often than not you’ll find that you wish you had at least one or two more spots, one player or two you wanted to keep, but couldn’t, or at least didn’t, in favor of somebody else.
The 53-man roster is an evolving entity whose purpose is, each week, to give team its best possible roster relative to the risk of making changes. You can’t just switch guys out here and there, so non-vested veterans (and even vested veterans after the trade deadline) have to go through waivers.
It’s an important decision to place someone on the Reserve/Injured List as well. Right tackle Zach Banner, himself on that list, respects the significance of the roster and what it means to have one of those hats, as he appears set to regain one.
“Every single one of those 53 roster spots means something. It means somebody is going to do something to contribute to the team”, he told reporters on Thursday. “I will not take up one of those spots until I can actually contribute to this team, or else I’m just hurting the team. And I’m okay with that. I’m a team guy first”.
Banner has been on IR for every meaningful game since week two last season, after he tore his ACL in the 2020 opener. He was making his first career start as the Steelers’ right tackle when the injury occurred late in the game. He had a minor setback after he participated in the preseason, but has been back practicing the past two weeks.
His lack of availability, particularly juxtaposed against his willingness to engage with the media—such as appearing on the radio—has led what at times seems to be many fans to grow weary of the big man, though it is perhaps just that they are ready to see him actually do something, rather than just hear about it.
That hasn’t been his fault, of course. His body has been what’s holding him back, something he hadn’t had to deal with in the past. “I’m just used to being Mr. Reliable”, he said of going through this injury and not being available to play. “I just am. And I feel like I’m letting the team down. Simple”.
In a parallel universe in which he didn’t get injured, Banner would be making his 22nd consecutive start at right tackle right now—assuming that he never got benched somewhere in between. Will he start on Sunday? That remains to be seen. Frankly, we don’t even know if he’ll be off IR.