Increasing the Game Day Roster Enhances Player Safety

Over the past few years, the hot button issue for the NFL is player safety. Millions of dollars are now allocated for research geared towards player safety. Millions more have been doled out in injury settlements. Rules to protect against head injuries have been put into place. At first glance these are great ways to help with player safety. But does the NFL really care about protecting against injuries? I believe they do, and I believe they can do more.

My concern began to manifest when I first heard that the NFL was considering a 17-game season. Looking at the toll an NFL season takes on the human body, adding an extra game increases the wear and tear on an NFL player. That is 60 more minutes of pounding. That is 5 more days of practice. The more fatigued your body gets, the less mentally acute you are. The less mentally acute you are, the less you can be mentally and physically prepared to play 60 minutes of a brutally physical sport.

There is no such thing as an off season for players anymore. Look at the rookies for instance. Why aren’t most rookies as impactful in year one as in year two? In part it is because they are not physically prepared to play in the NFL. Professional football players spend their whole off season building their bodies back up to take 3 sometimes 4 months of pounding on the gridiron.

Adding an extra game and expanding the playoffs does not enhance player safety. It may in fact, down grade it. There are some that will argue the NFL dropped a pre-season game. Let’s be honest, the 4th preseason game was only played by the 3rd and 4th string players all vying for 2 to 3 spots left on the team and or a spot on the practice squad. Dropping a pre-season game does little to decrease the wear and tear on a football player’s body. The NFL needs to consider expanding the roster size to ensure that players will be available to play a whole season. No one wants to watch the 2nd string QB pass to the 4th string wide receiver. However, if the NFL continues down this pathway without addressing the roster size and the active players on game day, the injury lists are going to get longer, and player safety will likely take a back seat.

The old NFL Roster rules were 53 men on the team with only 46 allowed to be active on game down. COVID expanded the game day roster size to 48 and allowed for practice squads to increase to 16 players wherein 6 of those players can have more than two accrued seasons in the NFL.

I believe the roster size is still too small for a 17-game season plus the expanded playoffs. The practice squad adjustments are very helpful to the team; however, it does not always ensure that the player the team wants will be available. I propose that the roster expand to 55 players with all 55 being eligible to play on Sunday. The overall roster size isn’t as big a deal as the number of players allowed to play each Sunday. Allowing for more players to be eligible will allow coaches to game plan and rotate high contact players such as running backs, tight ends, defensive lineman, and linebackers. The NFL can do more to increase player safety by increasing the number of players eligible to play. Maybe then we will see a decrease in injuries.

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