Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs Retain Practice Squad Flexibility with New Rules for 2022

The NFL has made permanent some recent revisions to their practice squad rules and has even expanded the game-day elevation option to give teams even more roster flexibility

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In Week Eight of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2021 season, wide receiver Cyril Grayson caught a 50-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady that briefly gave the Buccaneers a fourth-quarter lead in New Orleans. The Saints would answer with the game-winning points, but nine weeks later Grayson would strike again, catching a 33-yard touchdown pass with 15 seconds left in a thrilling 28-24 road win over the New York Jets.

In neither Week Eight or Week 17 was Grayson on the Buccaneers' active roster during their week of practice. In fact, he didn't spend a single week on the team's 53-man roster during the 2021 regular season.

So how did this second-year wideout manage to produce two of Tampa Bay's biggest offensive plays of the season? The answer lies in new practice squad rules introduced in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2020 and over the past two seasons in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Wednesday, the NFL and NFLPA agreed on a set of roster rules for the 2022 season and beyond, and not only are the practice squad rules of 2020-21 remaining in place but they've been tweaked to provide teams even more game-day flexibility. In its official document explaining the rules to team officials, these new practice squad provisions are described as "permanent."

Grayson played in those Saints and Jets games, and three others during the regular season, after being "elevated" from the practice squad to the active/inactive roster for game day. As per the rules, after each game he reverted to the practice squad without having to pass through waivers. This practice squad elevation option, added in the 2020 CBA before other revisions were made in response to the pandemic, allowed teams to carry up to 55 players and keep up to 48 of them active on game day, without expanding the 53-man rosters.

The Buccaneers used that option a total of 31 times over the course of 19 games last season, postseason included. Teams were permitted to elevate up to two players per game any specific practice squad player two times during the regular season, though there were also unlimited options to elevate players to replace others put on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Teams and players had unlimited elevation options in the postseason.

The NFL will keep those rules intact almost as is in 2022 but will now allow any specific player to be elevated three times during the regular season instead of two. The league has also removed a provision in the rules that made a player ineligible for elevations if he had been waived from a team's practice squad and subsequently re-signed by that same team.

The Buccaneers found the elevation option to be quite useful in 2021, particularly in response to a string of injuries to its pass-catchers. For instance, tight end Rob Gronkowski missed most of six games during a mid-season stretch due to ribs and back injuries but the Buccaneers did not add another tight end to the 53-man roster during that stretch. Instead, they simply elevated players from the practice squad on game day to fill the void at the position. During that six-game stretch and at other times during the season the Buccaneers elevated tight ends Codey McElroy, Deon Yelder and Darren Fells a total of eight times for use on game day.

Further enhancing the impact of these rules is the expansion of the practice squad to 16 players in the past two seasons, from the previous maximum of 10 in 2019, prior to the new CBA. That particular change was not originally part of the new CBA but was instead a change made in the summer of 2020 designed to give teams more flexibility in dealing with the pandemic. The NFL and NFLPA agreed to keep that practice squad limit at 16 in 2022.

NFL practice squads have grown significantly since the original CBA in 1993 set them with a five-man limit. That was increased to eight in 2004 and to 10 in 2014. The most recent CBA intended to gradually expand them to 12 in 2020 and 14 in 2021 before the pandemic led to an acceleration of that practice.

The greatly expanded practice squad rosters allow teams to build depth at more positions and to churn over those rosters less frequently during the season. Last year, the Buccaneers kept nine players on their practice squad, including Grayson, for the entire regular season. Contrast that with Tampa Bay's 2002 Super Bowl team, which was working with a five-man practice squad and only kept one player on that unit for the entire regular season. With fewer spots to work with, the Buccaneers had to make changes more often to react to positions that had been thinned by injuries.

Teams will also retain more flexibility with their practice squad in terms of signing veteran players. They may now devote up to six of their 16 spots on veteran players, those who have accrued more than two seasons of free agency credit. It was that type of exception, for instance, that allowed the Buccaneers to sign Fells and wide receiver Breshad Perriman to their practice squad last season after they were released by the Lions and Bears, respectively. Perriman was later promoted to the active roster.

Cyril Grayson will head into this summer's training camp hoping to ride his late-season momentum from 2021 into an opening-day spot on the 53-man roster in 2022. Even if he is on the active roster from the jump, there will surely be some other valuable contributors who will get to make their mark on game days thanks to the NFL's expanded practice squad rules.

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