What the 17-Game Schedule Means for Roster Management

Last week’s schedule release was the official unveiling of the NFL’s first-ever 17-game regular season, but it’s something teams have been anticipating for a decade.

“A lot of what’s happened over the last 10 years has been building toward this,” said former Detroit Lions team president Tom Lewand, who joined this week’s 33rd Team Call to discuss the subject. “It’s more of an evolution.”

Lewand noted that the league has been talking about a 17-game season – and possibly an 18-game season – as long ago as the collective bargaining negotiations of a decade ago. One way teams and players were preparing for an expanded schedule was the expansion of active rosters and practice squad rosters. Both have grown incrementally over the years. The active roster limit expanded to 48 last year. The practice squad, which grew from 10 to 12 last year, increases to 14 in 2022.

“Getting one more guy on the active roster every year has been an annual war,” said Lewand.

A longer season can almost certainly lead to more injuries. Having more players available in those circumstances is one thing, but good roster management begins before the injuries occur.

“A lot of the teams have this kind of thing baked into their system,” said Lewand.

Roster management has always been important, though dealing with COVID-19 last season really brought it to the fore.

“All of those things have kind of been evolving … building up to this,” said Lewand. “And then you had last year, where the idea of building depth, of having guys out there in an ecosystem, who knew your system that you could bring in as close to a plug-and-play basis as possible – hence the player development piece.”

Like most aspects of the sport, accounting for the 17-game season means having a plan.

“The critical thing you need to do to get ready for that 17th game is make sure everybody’s on the same page, starting with your head coach. Those discussions should have been going on the last four or five years. If they weren’t, they sure as hell went on last year.”

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