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2020 expanded roster rules will remain in place in ‘21; let’s take a second to remember what those rules are

NFL: Chicago Bears at Oakland Raiders Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As had been expected, the league has announced that the more flexible roster rules and increased practice squad size implemented a season ago due to COVID-19 will carry over to 2021. I think that is good news.

As a refresher, here are those changes:

  • Expansion of practice squads to 16 players, including up to six who have more than two accrued seasons.
  • The ability to protect up to four practice squad players per week from being signed by other teams.
  • Elevation of up to two practice squad players to the active roster, without removing any current players. These elevations take place before 4 p.m. ET the day before a game, but not before Friday (aside from teams playing on TNF), meaning that any players who are not one of the four ‘protected’ PS players can still be signed by other teams during the week.
  • Elevation of an additional practice squad player within 90 minutes before kickoff in the event of a late COVID-19 positive test result for a player on the gameday roster.

CLICK HERE for a comprehensive review of 2020 rules on Roster Size

CLICK HERE if you want a deep level of detail on practice squad rules from 2020


  • Gameday rosters can include up to two practice squad players elevated temporarily (i.e. just that week). To be eligible to elevate two players, the team must have 8 offensive linemen active for the game; otherwise, only one player may be elevated.
  • Teams do not have to elevate any practice squad players in any given week. A limitation exists that makes this decision rational: no player can be (temporarily) elevated from the practice squad more than two times in a season. If any player is put on the active roster for a third time (or more) he must be signed to a standard player contract and count against the 53-man roster.
  • Players placed on injured reserve AFTER 53-man rosters are finalized on 31 August can return to the roster after three weeks, rather than six as in the previous seasons. As always, any player who is placed on IR without being on the team’s initial 53-man roster is ineligible to play in the NFL for the entire season.
  • Removal of the limit for how many players can be activated from injured reserve.

Related article: Why does the NFL have inactive players on game day?


I have long been in favor of the kind of rules liberalization regarding rosters that we saw last year. It’s better for the fans, the teams, and the sport when healthy players who belong in the league are on the field near the end of the season rather than having to rely on street free agents who were available in December or January (with the obvious exception of former ODU quartebacks studying for final exams in an advanced mathematics degree program).


Related article: A brief history of roster sizes in the NFL: A look at NFL roster sizes and associated rules from 1920 to 2020