By not expanding rosters, owners will pay price in long run
The NFL recently spurned a chance to expand rosters. John Clayton argues that simply by expanding training camp roster limits, the NFL could have done itself a huge favor at little cost.
At the annual owners meeting last week in Palm Beach, Fla., NFL owners made a mistake. They didn't expand offseason rosters beyond 80 players. Worse, they didn't even really consider the move.Several proposals were presented. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers wanted rosters expanded to a 90-player maximum. The league's management council recommended an 86-player limit. But owners said no to both ideas. Concerned about the tight profit margin created by a 2006 collective bargaining extension that favors the players, owners decided 80 players in training camp is enough. But 80 isn't enough. Having at least 86 players in training camp before the cuts down to the 53-man regular-season limit (which does not include the eight-man practice squads teams maintain) would help teams better prepare for inevitable injuries. "That's the only thing I've really been interested in -- how many guys we are going to have to go to training camp," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "When you practice twice a day, what kind of practices are you going to have? You have four or five quarterbacks, but they aren't going to get hit. You have three or four kickers, and they aren't going to want to get hit. You'll have seven or eight guys who are unable to practice because of injuries, and you'll have six or seven guys on once-a-day status. Now, you're talking about 53 guys out there twice a day with a 115-degree heat index." The 80-man roster is an issue because the league folded NFL Europa this past summer. Teams were losing close to $1 million a year each on a development league that wasn't developing many NFL players. The league's demise was long overdue.
By not expanding the rosters by six players each and developing the young prospects, the owners are costing themselves lots of money. Those six extra players for each team won't reach free agency until 2014 (it will take six full seasons to become a free agent if the league goes uncapped), and the NFL will be losing 192 players it could have nurtured.
To find replacements, teams will have to look to the Arena Football League, the Canadian Football League -- or, they'll have to sign players who haven't been in a training camp. The NFL needs to find some development system for the players who are on the streets during the fall. Injuries happen, and it would help to have a regular-season camp of players being coached by NFL professionals and getting ready for the call to a roster.
Owners didn't think through these equations.
John Clayton, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame writers' wing, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.