Over the years of the NFL’s existence, the size of a roster has gradually increased. In the 1920s, when most players participated on both sides of the ball, just 16 players were active for each team. Gameday rosters now sit at 46 players, with the most recent increase coming with the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, but that number appears set to increase with the new CBA that is currently under negotiation.
According to a breakdown of the major tenets of the proposed CBA on ESPN, the active gameday roster would increase from 46 to 48 players if the agreement is ratified. Interestingly, however, there is a stipulation in place that one of these two additional players on the gameday roster must be an offensive lineman. Given that teams may activate any number of players at any position at present — the “emergency quarterback” rule was eliminated in 2011 when the gameday roster increased from 45 to 46 — it remains to be seen how exactly this would be implemented.
As for the overall active roster, ESPN reports that the total number of players eligible will increase by two from 53 to 55, similar to the expansion of gameday rosters. As above, however, there is a caveat: the players taking up these two expanded spots must come from the team’s practice squad, a group that will expand to 12 players immediately and 14 in 2022. This gives more players the chance to stay with an NFL team throughout the season, and those players will get added benefits like a retirement plan and a higher weekly salary.
In terms of the roster mechanics of this change, the most likely way this setup would work is for teams to set up normal 53-man rosters coming out of training camp before signing their practice squads. The team would then designate a pair of practice squad players to be the additional two on the active roster sometime during week one, likely earning a league-minimum game check for every week spent on the 55.
Players should be able to retain that status consecutively, but teams will get added flexibility by sending one of these players to the practice squad twice in a single season before requiring them to be subject to waivers first. This appears to be a concept borrowed from Major League Baseball; MLB teams typically get three minor league options on a player before he must be subject to waivers in order to be sent down to the minors.
Ultimately, these roster rules tweaks will offer more players the opportunity to practice with NFL teams — in other words, there are more jobs to go around. For the teams, this gives them added flexibility on gamedays and in overall roster construction during the season. Given that much of the NFL’s player base still works under league minimum contracts and is subject to significant turnover, these added benefits for bottom-of-the-roster players should be a positive for the majority of those who will be voting on the CBA soon.