What NFL’s new roster regulations mean for Commanders in 2022

(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports) Ron Rivera
(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports) Ron Rivera /

The NFL doesn’t always get it right, but they deserve credit for being able to complete a full season successfully in 2020 when COVID-19 was running rampant around the country. With sudden twists and turns concerning positive tests and close contacts, the league had to get creative and enforce new rules.

Most of these changes revolved around modifying the practice squad and injured reserve regulations.

While we’re almost on the other side of the pandemic, COVID is still an obstacle — the Washington Commanders‘ late-season breakout in 2021 derailed their hopes of returning to the playoffs — so some of these rules have remained in place.

At its spring meetings this week, the NFL finalized directives regarding team rosters and cutdown dates for the 2022 season. The alterations weren’t major, but they’re important and cutdown dates are always worth bookmarking.

What do these tweaks mean for the Commanders?

Roster cutdown dates for Commanders

Per the NFL, teams can have 90 players on their offseason/training camp roster before rosters must be trimmed to 85 on Aug.16, after the first week of preseason. From there, rosters get reduced to 80 on Aug. 23 after the second week of preseason and then to the familiar 53 limit on Aug. 30 after the preseason finale.

If anyone wants to circle these dates on their calendars, the Commanders three preseason games are Aug. 13 vs Carolina, Aug. 20 at Kansas City and Aug. 27 at Baltimore. Something to keep in mind as we get closer to cutdowns.

Commanders practice squad size for 2022

As we noted earlier, the practice squad regulation instilled amid the COVID-19 pandemic will remain intact. For the past two seasons, practice squads were set at 16 players and that number is here to say. Practice squads originally composed of 10 players before 2020, and were set to increase to 12 in 2020 and 2021 and 14 in 2022. COVID forced the NFL’s hand and it has admirably adapted with the times.

This is big news for the Commanders’ undrafted free agent class. While quarterback Cole Kelley, linebacker Drew White, guard Tyrese Robinson and defensive back Will Adams were virtual locks to make the cut, rosters staying at 16 players now gives tight end Curtis Hodges, wideout/return specialist Jequez Ezzard and linebacker Ferrod Gardner a realistic chance of making the practice squad as UDFAs.

Another reason this is important? Teams are still allowed to elevate to practice squad players to the active roster on gameday. The more players on the PS, the more flexibility Washington has when it comes to making last-ditch promotions, even though rosters must meet the 48-man threshold before kickoff.

Updated Injured Reserve rules

Teams are allowed to return eight players from injured reserve or the reserve/non-football injury/illness list in 2022. The number was limited during the pandemic, but this is still a win for the Commanders, as teams could only deem two IR players as eligible to return before the 2020 campaign.

Additionally, players who hit IR can return to practice or the active/inactive list after missing four games. It appears four games might be the NFL’s preferred number in this regard. The number was set at eight amid the pandemic before it was set at three in 2020 and 2021 to allow for more flexibility.

Players can also return from IR twice during a season. The kicker? Each time counts against the team’s cap of eight players who can return, however. That could catch teams off-guard, but the league no longer requires teams to declare players as eligible to return when they hit injured reserve.

That should just about do it. The NFL catches heat for caring too much about its bottom line, and deservedly so, but these updated roster regulations are clearly in the best interest of all 32 teams. The NFL season is more grueling than ever before at 17 games so giving teams maximum roster flexibility was an easy call.

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