Bill Belichick has often been one to use the rules to his full advantage. Whether it be running clock or setting his roster, if there is gray area, the Hoodie will find it.
And so, changes to roster rules this year are providing Belichick an opportunity to maximize his roster. The Patriots cut down to 53 players on Saturday, and as of Week 1 Monday, the Patriots do not have a kicker on their 53-man roster. Instead, they signed veteran Nick Folk and rookie Justin Rohrwasser to the practice squad.
There were two significant changes to practice squad rules that Belichick is likely trying to benefit from. The first is eligibility. Normally, the practice squad consists of players with two or fewer accrued seasons. This year’s CBA changed that to allow for two players with any amount of accrued seasons to be signed to the practice squad. That was expanded to six players with the decision to boost the practice squad to 16 players during the Covid-19 pandemic. Folk is a long-time NFL veteran who would not have been eligible in previous years.
The other rule change relates to promoting players to the active roster. Previously, a team had to release a player and sign a practice squad player to a regular contract. The new CBA includes a clause that allows for up to two players to be promoted to the game day roster without taking up a spot and then returned to the practice squad without having to put them through waivers.
This is effectively an “up-to-55-man” roster. There is some nuance to this, however. A player is automatically sent back to the practice squad the first business day after the team’s game. Additionally, during the season, a single player can only twice be promoted in this manner. To promote a player a third time requires the normal clearing of a roster spot.
It’s entirely possible Belichick is ready to use the 54th or 55th roster spot each week until he finds a kicker with whom he is comfortable. Maybe Folk is “called up” the first two weeks, and if he struggles, the team cuts him and then does the same with Rohrwasser — or vice versa.
We’ll likely see some unique roster maneuvering across the league this season while dealing with the pandemic. It would appear Bill Belichick already has some thoughts on how to approach his roster.