Getting The New NFL Roster Rule Changes Straight In My Mind

The new CBA was, I guess, ratified earlier this year, and with it came the usual sprinkling of tweaks to the rules. I still don’t have it all straight in my mind – there’s apparently going to be seven teams from each conference making the playoffs (with only the #1 seeds getting a first round BYE), and I guess a 17-game schedule is coming for some reason (greed) – but one of the biggies that flew under my radar is how NFL rosters are going to look for a while.

Truth be told, this post is just for me. I feel like I’ll have a better chance of remembering these fakakta alterations if I write them down. To save yourself some agony, just read Bob Condotta’s article from today’s Seattle Times; he says it better than I ever could.

So, up until now, NFL rosters have maxed out at 53 players, with 46 of those guys active on game days. Why this is a thing, I’ll never understand (greed again), but whatever. It usually doesn’t make a HUGE difference anyway, because you’re talking about the bottom of the roster barrel, plus it’s football: there are usually enough guys with nagging injuries that need to sit out a game here and there anyway (this also probably saves on players getting thrown on Injured Reserve, as long as there aren’t too many other injuries at the same position).

NOW, teams can have up to 55 players on their rosters, with up to 48 active on gameday. The caveats (because OF COURSE there are caveats (because greed, almost assuredly)) are that two of the 55 must come from your practice squad, only to be elevated the day before a game; and at least one of the 48 must be an eighth offensive lineman.

That offensive lineman rule feels like the Seahawks snuck it in as a rider to this huge piece of legislation at the eleventh hour that REALLY only helps our team. Why would the majority of NFL teams need an eighth offensive lineman? What are the odds that you’d have THREE O-Line injuries in the same game? That’s pretty remote, I have to imagine. BUT, the odds increase if – like the Seahawks – you regularly employ the use of a sixth lineman in certain jumbo packages. I mean, you might as well call this the George Fant Provision! It would make more sense if George Fant was still here, and not penciled in to be the starting left tackle for the New York Jets, but you get the idea.

NFL teams usually roster around nine offensive linemen, with only seven being active on gameday. Does this mean most teams will now roster ten? Is that why the Seahawks went H.A.M. in the O-Line free agent market? I’ll go out on a limb and say “Yes”; why not?!

It does make it interesting, however, that the Seahawks put so much effort into refilling their tight end room on top of it. I’m still expecting one or two surprise veteran cuts at some point before the regular season starts, but people have speculated that the other extra roster spot could be devoted to keeping a fourth or even a fifth tight end (particularly if one of those guys – like Stephen Sullivan – straddles the definition between tight end and wide receiver).

We can speculate on that until we’re all blue in the face, so let’s move on.

Things get moderately interesting when we talk about the practice squad. Instead of ten players, it will now have twelve (with, again, two of those players being promoted to the active roster every week). The same rules apply in that if any other team wants to poach one of your practice squad guys, they can do so, as long as they are being signed to that team’s active roster (you can of course, I’m assuming, do the same to prevent those coveted players from fleeing). Two of your practice squad players can have an unlimited number of accrued years under their belts (before, it had to be no more than two years), so if you’re a longtime veteran who’s looking to stay in the league as long as humanly possible (and you don’t mind earning those low, low practice squad wages), then you’re in luck!

I’m, you know … I’m looking at you, Luke Willson.

Getting back to the roster increase from 53 to 55, as I said those two players have to come from that week’s practice squad. The catch is, those two players either have to return to the practice squad the next day, or you have two waive two other guys to keep them on. And, you can only return a player to the practice squad twice per season without exposing them to waivers. After that, every time they’d have to pass through (though, I don’t know if that’s a super big deal, because any team can take any player from your practice squad at any time, if they really want ’em).

Is it a perfect system? Of course not, it never will be. If it were up to me, players on the practice squad would be YOUR guys and would never be subjected to waivers unless you specifically WAIVED them (because you no longer want them). The “practice squad”, in this sense, would be like the minor leagues in baseball, and instead of worrying about your new draft picks being ready to play right away, you could take more chances on prospects/projects, without worrying about losing them through the life of their rookie deals. That seems like a much better solution than subjecting a longtime veteran to the indignity of either taking a practice squad deal or getting dropped from the league entirely.

Now that I’ve laid it all out here, I realize these changes sounded much more significant when the CBA was first announced. But, these are pretty small potatoes in the grand scheme of football things; I guess that’s why I waited until mid-May to finally learn some of the nuances.

The Seahawks Drafted Seven Other Guys Besides Jordyn Brooks

Did you read my uninformed take on the Seahawks’ first round draft pick last week? Well, stick around for my uninformed takes on the rest of these guys I’ve never heard of!

Here’s the full list:

  • First Round – Jordyn Brooks (LB)
  • Second Round – Darrell Taylor (DE)
  • Third Round – Damien Lewis (G)
  • Fourth Round – Colby Parkinson (TE)
  • Fourth Round – DeeJay Dallas (RB)
  • Fifth Round – Alton Robinson (DE)
  • Sixth Round – Freddie Swain (WR)
  • Seventh Round – Stephen Sullivan (TE)

The Seahawks had a lot of holes to fill on an underperforming defense, so OF COURSE they spent 5 of their 8 draft picks (including trading away a pick in 2021 just to jump back into the seventh round this year) on the offense! And yet, honestly? I don’t think I can fault their logic here.

The last couple of Seahawks drafts felt like we were bolstering our depth. They made 20 picks in 2018 & 2019, at a period in this franchise’s history where depth was at its thinnest. Properly replenished, it’s now time to start taking some chances on drafting starters and stars again. And, I get the feeling here – more than I have in recent seasons – that the Seahawks are going to give these guys every opportunity to win jobs very soon.

Brooks, we’ve discussed. No one believes he’s muscling Bobby Wagner out of his job anytime soon, but clearly K.J. Wright is on notice. No one would be shocked if he gets cut before the season, but regardless 2020 is a mortal lock to be Wright’s last year in a Seahawks uniform.

I’m going to lump Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson together here, because they’re essentially the same guy from a body-type point of view (6’4, 267; 6’3, 264 respectively) and both figure to vie for the LEO defensive end spot. I mean, yeah, IDEALLY both of these guys are future Hall of Famers; but realistically, the Seahawks are hoping for one of these guys to pan out as a respectable starter for the next however many years. Taken in context with who the Seahawks have on the roster right now, their direct competition appears to be Benson Mayowa (the entrenched starter at the moment) and Bruce Irvin (who will play SAM linebacker and shift to defensive end on passing downs), neither of whom are longterm options for this team. So, there’s your 2020 rotation for the LEO end spot; both of these rookies will get a chance to compete and it’s just a matter of staying healthy and learning the defense.

Damien Lewis might have the clearest path to starting for this team (especially with the moves the Seahawks made last night, which I’ll get to later in the week). He’s a right guard, so right away there’s no confusion about where he’s going to stick. He’s not a guard/center, or a right tackle that projects as a guard; he’s just a fucking GUARD! Isn’t that wonderful? To boot, he was the second guard taken in the entire draft! That (and the fact that Tom Cable is nowhere near this decision) should tell you everything you need to know: Lewis is almost certainly ready to start from Day 1. He played for National Champion LSU, on the college world’s greatest offensive line, and has played a signifiant number of games from junior college through his two years with the Tigers, so this isn’t some project who needs seasoning to learn the game. He’s a powerful run blocker – obviously a trait the Seahawks appreciate more than most NFL teams – and his pass protection numbers aren’t bad at all. At this point, it would be an upset (and deeply upsetting) if he didn’t start as a rookie.

I’m not going to lump the two listed tight ends for reasons I’ll talk about later, so for now let’s discuss the unfortunately-named Colby Parkinson. He’s a 6’7, 251-pound pass-catching tight end out of Stanford. This is an interesting pick for a variety of reasons. The Seahawks are clearly a power-rushing offense that likes to take deep shots down field. The tight ends who work best in this offense are the heavy, run-blocking bulldozers who are able to take advantage over slower linebackers in the passing game. Yet, the Seahawks seem to have a perpetual hard-on for these elite pass-catchers in the Jimmy Graham mold, of which Parkinson would seem to emulate.

Here’s the deal: how great would it be to have the next Gronk, or George Kittle, or Travis Kelce? Who WOULDN’T want a big, tall guy who plays like a receiver, but can also blow you up like an offensive lineman? Who WOULDN’T want the type of offensive mismatch who is too fast to be covered by a mortal linebacker, but is also too big and overpowering for any cornerback or safety you try to throw his way? But, these guys are rarer than a unicorn steak on top of a bed of four-leaf clovers with a side-order of dodo egg stew! More often than not, you pick a guy with an obvious flaw and hope they’re able to develop it sooner rather than later. So, which is a better starting-off point to come from when trying to reverse-engineer one of these studs? The quality blocking tight end with stone hands, or the pass-catching phenom who blocks like a matador’s cape?

Fun fact: a matador’s cape is called a muleta! Seattle Sports Hell: come for the half-assed sports commentary, stay for the half-assed dictionary lesson!

I’m kind of on the side of thinking that it’s better to have the guy who knows how to block well and have him develop the ability to catch, because blocking seems like more of a “want-to” attitude, and if you have a good-enough quarterback, he should be able to throw catchable balls to a tall guy in traffic. But, clearly the Seahawks are hoping this way works as well. We’ll see. I’ll say this much: drafting a guy and teaching him how to block is WAY more preferable to trading for a guy (Jimmy Graham) after he’s an established offensive star in the league and just hoping he’ll stop crumpling into a paper ball at the first sight of contact.

I can’t say my hopes are super high on Parkinson, but at the same time – getting back to my original point, what feels like thousands of words ago – look at his competition. Greg Olsen, Luke Willson, and Jacob Hollister are all on 1-year deals; while Olsen isn’t going anywhere, nothing is guaranteed to the other two. All Parkinson has to do is beat a couple of dime-a-dozen guys and he’s locked in behind Olsen and Dissly (when he’s healthy). If he manages that simple feat, he’ll figure pretty prominently in any red zone situation. AND, if he does develop into even a passable blocker, he could be a fantasy god for years to come!

Boy, do I love a guy who spells out his name DeeJay! DeeJay Dallas is such a perfect running back name, I can’t even stand it. Also, if you think I’m not calling him DeeJ, you’re crazy!

So, DeeJ is kind of on the bigger, slower side, but that slow stuff is more about how he tests; his game speed appears to be fine. He’s a converted wide receiver, which makes him an ideal candidate to play on third downs, and he also apparently has kick returning experience. So, this jack of all trades looks like a lock to make the team, with a high probability of seeing significant playing time behind Chris Carson. Is he a future starter for this team? I guess we’ll find out, but he’s got a lot going for him to get his foot in the door, which is all you can ask for. Plus, considering the Seahawks’ poor track record of drafting guys in the fourth round, I don’t mind them going with a running back so early. Unless he’s simply incapable of finding a hole to run through, this feels like a can’t-miss, with some obvious high upside because it’s the running back position: as long as the O-Line is doing its job, anyone should be good here!

Finally, let’s lump in the last two guys: receiver Freddie Swain and tight end/receiver Stephen Sullivan. Sullivan is 6’5 and was a tight end in college, but the Seahawks are listing him as a receiver, which is all you need to know: slow, tall receiver. After all that talk about Parkinson, you’d think I’d be alarmed about Sullivan’s blocking skills, or lack thereof. But, the Seahawks ask a lot out of their receivers in blocking, so if he can’t at least manhandle some cornerbacks, I don’t think there’s much hope for him to stick here. The good news is: he’s a seventh round pick. You’d think we could stash him on the practice squad and let him do nothing but learn for a year. This guy is the epitome of a capital-p Project; best case scenario is – in a year or two – he’s starting opposite D.K. Metcalf in a potent offense full of huge pass-catchers during many multiple MVP seasons by Russell Wilson.

The real interesting guy is Freddie Swain, who is a prototypical slot receiver. Unless the Seahawks go out and sign another free agent, it’s pretty safe to say the top four receivers are Lockett, Metcalf, Dorsett, and David Moore. John Ursua looks to have a leg up as another slot guy for this team, but there’s a pretty clear path for Swain to be a fifth or sixth receiver on this team (especially if he can add anything on special teams). There’s also a chance for Malik Turner to rejoin the team, who will be nice as competition fodder. Bottom line is – between Swain and Ursua – we should be pretty set at slot receiver (especially when you figure Lockett is more than comfortable there as well).

My initial impression is: I like Lewis an awful lot to start right away. But, I think there’s more higher-upside guys in this draft class than in any year since maybe 2012! Now, obviously, the guys still have to pan out – which is FAR from a guarantee – but if we manage to hit on even half of these guys (particularly one of the defensive ends), the Seahawks should be in good shape for a while.