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Report: NFL’s special COVID roster rules likely to return in 2021

While the NFL is working hard to return to some kind of normalcy for the coming season, some of the special rules for the 2020 season are likely to return.

Philadelphia Eagles v Washington Redskins Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

When the National Football League circulated a memo among its clubs on Thursday, the most significant news was that a team with an outbreak of COVID-19 among its unvaccinated players could end up forfeiting an affected game if it cannot be rescheduled within the framework of 2021’s scheduled 18-week season.

But now, another paragraph of the memo is receiving scrutiny. Italics are added.

In light of the substantial roster flexibility in place for the 2021 season, absent medical considerations or government directives, games will not be postponed or rescheduled simply to avoid roster issues caused by injury or illness affecting multiple players, even within a position group.”

This suggests that special roster rules that were in place for the 2020 season will remain in 2021.

These included modifying injured reserve rules that allowed players to be returned to the roster after only three weeks — instead of the usual six weeks. Practice squads were allowed to expand from 12 to 16 players, with up to six of them having any number of accrued seasons.

And while it was never officially announced, it was clear that in 2020, rules regarding single-game practice-squad elevations — which typically keep a player from being elevated to a roster in two consecutive weeks or more than twice in a season — were modified so that elevations taking place when a team had a corresponding player on the reserve/COVID list didn’t count in that calculation. In addition, it appeared that the rule preventing the same player from being elevated in consecutive games was temporarily suspended or modified.

For example, Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Marcus Kemp — one of the team’s key special-teams players — was elevated from the practice squad in three consecutive weeks during October. But the first one was designated on the NFL transactions report as a COVID elevation, while the last two were listed as standard elevations.

According to a report from NBC Sports’ Mike Florio, multiple sources say that special rules for 2021 — which, like last season, will be set in negotiations between the league and NFL Players Association — are not yet finalized. But it is “expected” that the same rules will apply to the coming season.

The rules likely will be finalized soon. If the league is willing to use the same procedures that it used in 2020, there’s no reason for the union to object. It creates more jobs and more opportunities for players.

We will keep you posted.