NFL changes postseason roster rule as COVID-19 cases increase around league

·3-min read

The NFL wants to make sure teams are not shorthanded in the postseason due to COVID-19. The league altered a playoff rule Wednesday to allow unlimited promotions from the practice squad during the 2021 NFL playoffs, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network. 

The previous rule allowed practice squad players to be elevated to the 53-man roster twice a year. Once a team elevated a player from a practice squad a third time, the team had to terminate the player's practice squad contract and give him an NFL player contract. If the team wanted to send that player back down to the practice squad, that player had to pass through waivers, exposing him to the rest of the NFL.

Under the new rule, practice squad players can be elevated as many times as needed during the postseason.

If a player has already been elevated to the 53-man roster twice, he can still be brought up on the practice squad deal in the postseason. Those players won't be subject to waivers if they are sent back down following a game. 

This rule will only apply for the 2021 postseason. The official NFL memo announcing the change doesn't mention COVID-19, but Pelissero said the move will give "even more roster flexibility as COVID cases spike across the league." Roughly 100 players were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list since Monday.

NFL considering changes to COVID-19 policy for vaccinated players

The league is also reportedly considering changes to its COVID-19 policy for vaccinated players, according to Pro Football Talk and Mark Maske of the Washington Post. 

The league reportedly is mulling over allowing vaccinated, asymptomatic players to return to action sooner after they test positive for COVID-19.

NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills spoke Wednesday, explaining two thirds of the 100 players who tested positive were asymptomatic, per ESPN. The remaining third reportedly have mild symptoms, and may not have sought out a COVID test if not for the NFL's policy.

Sills added the omicron variant is present among multiple teams. He believes immunity among vaccinated players has likely waned. The NFL is reportedly requiring Tier 1 and Tier 2 employees — but not players — to receive a COVID-19 booster by Dec. 27.

Sills said the league is always thinking about when players should be allowed to return after testing positive, per Pro Football Talk.

“We’re always looking at that aspect of how we return someone,” Sills said. “What’s the goal there? You’re trying to return someone when it’s safe for them, when they are no longer a risk to themselves or to others. We have to learn and evaluate that against the data that’s coming out. So we study our returns very carefully, and we look at that in light of those outcome measures.

“I think those are ongoing discussions and things that we’ll consider. But again, it’s not about how soon we get them back. We want to bring them back when it’s safe for them and when they are not a risk to others in terms of transmission. We just have to update that now based on what we’re seeing with this new variant and its effect.”

Sills said the league would consult with public health authorities before making changes. Under the current rule, vaccinated players who test positive for COVID-19 must turn in two negative tests 24 hours apart to return.

Ravens sign asking unvaccinated fans to wear masks.
The NFL is considering altering its COVID-19 policy. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
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