NFL, NFLPA likely to keep in place modified IR rules, 16-man practice squads in 2021

Official COVID-19 protocols for 2021 likely won't come down until closer to the start of training camp, but two positive holdovers from last year seem likely to be part of the plan.

NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported Wednesday that all signs point to the NFL and NFLPA keeping in place several of last year's COVID-related changes to roster rules, including unlimited/faster return from injured reserve and 16-man practice squads, per sources informed of the situation.

The expanded practice squads and the ability to move players to and from IR were popular byproducts of playing during the pandemic enjoyed by both players and clubs.

The new IR rules for last year were particularly beneficial. Instead of having only three IR-return designations to be used after a player missed eight weeks, clubs had an unlimited amount of IR-returns to use, and players had to sit out only three weeks. The adjustments were beneficial to players who could better rehab without taking up a roster spot or being shut down for half a season. The changes also provided clubs more flexibility in a season of uncertainty. The fear of clubs stashing players on IR never came into play in 2020.

It wouldn't be a surprise if the IR rule and expanded practice squads ultimately become permanent fixtures after the pandemic, especially with the expansion to a 17-game season.

With the NFL and NFLPA continuing to negotiate on various issues ahead of the 2021 season, the final ruling on roster sizes, COVID-19 protocols, and other issues likely won't be finalized for weeks. But hanging onto some of the adjustments from last year would be smart for both sides of the aisle.

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