When the news hit on Friday that UDFA Thaddeus Moss had been waived by the team, it was surprising to some, and an ‘I told you so’ moment for others, but the reactions may have been a bit premature. Tweets from some beat reporters hinted that the team might want to bring him back at some point, and talk soon turned to his struggles, not with talent, but with injury.
It was discovered at the Combine in February that Moss was suffering from a Jones fracture in his foot that required surgery, effectively dampening his draft value. The then-Redskins eventually signed him as a UDFA to join a motley crew of tight ends being assembled to compete for the roster spots that had been filled by Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis in last year’s training camp.
Some people trumpeted that Moss was a steal — a player who would otherwise have been a mid-round pick that cost Washington no draft capital and a minimal contract investment — while others pointed to his limitations, saying he wasn’t really NFL starting material. The team’s decision to waive Moss on Friday initially seemed to vindicate the latter point of view.
But Ron Rivera, when asked about the move to waive the rookie tight end sounded as though Thaddeus Moss was still very much in the team’s plans.
[Moss] had foot surgery. He had it a little bit late and it’s one of those things that’s hindering his ability to go out and work. So, knowing what his potential is, knowing what he did in college football, knowing his skillset, it’s like, OK, he’s not healthy enough to get out there every day and he would just fall further and further behind. Again, one of the options that we have is the foot is still sore and the foot is still bothering him, is to put him on IR
When I listened to the coach talking about the player, I heard a lot of emphasis on his skills and potential, and I got the feeling that he’d like to see Moss remain on the roster.
In previous years, the move to IR in camp would have absolutely kept Moss off the roster for the entire season as the only players who were eligible to return from IR were those who were on the roster Week 1 (or who were free agents and subsequently signed to the roster in the first half of the season).
But with a global pandemic underway, the league and the NFLPA have adopted a number of special rules for the season that make rosters much more flexible. For example, the league and players agreed to expand practice squad size to 16 players for the 2020 season. They agreed to keep that expansion for the 2021 season as well if the COVID-19 Testing and Treatment Protocols remain in effect for that season.
Additionally, during the regular season, teams will be allowed to designate four of their 16 practice-squad players who will not be allowed to sign a contract with a different team between Tuesday of game-week at 4 p.m. ET and the day following the team’s next game. (For example, teams that play on Sunday can designate four players who cannot sign with a different team until the following Monday, at the earliest.)
Teams will also be allowed to activate a practice-squad player on game days up until 90 minutes before kickoff if a player on the active roster tests positive (or needs to be quarantined for preventive reasons) after the Saturday 4 p.m. deadline.
But one change that may apply to Moss’s situation is that the league and union also agreed that an unlimited number of players will be allowed to be designated for return from the injured list during the 2020 season. The designated for return procedures were further modified so that players will be eligible to return to practices and/or games after three regular season games or postseason weeks following their placement on Injured Reserve. Teams will then have an additional 21 days to activate players after they have been designated to return to practice.
What I’m not clear on is whether the restriction is still in place that requires a player to be on the Week 1 roster in order to be eligible to return. I’ve read perhaps a dozen articles in search of the answer to that question, but haven’t found it.
Still, there are only two possibilities.
If Moss has to be on the active roster in Week 1 to be eligible to return, then 2020 will effectively turn into a “redshirt” year for him, similar to Bryce Love’s 2019 rookie season. He’ll be on ice as far as the roster is concerned, but he can rehab, work on strength and conditioning, spend time with the team and coaches and learn the system and culture, coming back better prepared for the 2021 season.
If the Week 1 roster rule has been suspended for 2020 along with so many other rules, then it’s possible — and I stress that this would only be the case if the rule is different from previously — that he could be activated this season, and that could happen as early as Week 4.
Given his injury and his need for development, the team might want to leave Moss on IR for the full season even if they have the option of activating him during the season. With another 8 months of rehab and preparation, Moss could enter next year’s OTAs in a strong position.
Far from signaling the end of his career in Washington, being waived on Friday appears to simply have pressed the “pause” button on Thaddeus Moss’s NFL career. In fact, it may be the best thing that could have happened for a player who is hampered by a painful injury, surgery and recovery. It seems very likely that this time next year he will be in training camp competing for a valuable spot on the team’s TE group.