Roster Limits Making an Impact

During the run of NFL Europa (previously known as NFL Europe) NFL teams were allowed to have as many as 86 players in camp.  The roster limit was still 80, just like it is today, but the teams were allowed to use up to six roster exemptions.

Due to the demise of the league across the pond, there are no longer any exemptions allowed.  Teams can only carry 80 players into camp.

Carolina Panthers coach John Fox spoke Wednesday about this.

Much more after the jump…

“I think we’re going to shorten our length of camp,” Fox said. “We’ve always carried 86 players. This year with 80, it doesn’t sound like a big difference, but it is. You’re practicing at camp twice a day and it does affect it. I’m not sure what everybody else in the league is doing but that’s something we’ve looked at and adjusted.”

The coach has some work to do and some decisions to make concerning the time spent in training camp.  An announcement is coming at a later date.  Normally, we would see the team at Wofford College for four weeks but that could be shortened to three weeks.

Fox says that his normal schedule of alternating between two or one practice in a day will remain intact.

“The schedule itself will be the same as it’s been, 2-1-2, that kind of routine,” he said. “We have installation and time limits and only so much time to get things in. We can’t deviate too far from that, but then we’ll have an adjusted schedule when we get back here.”

Imagine for a minute.  You’re the manager of a group of workers and your boss just handed you 30-plus new employees.  Only after getting these new people, you realize that you might have to knock one week off your training schedule.  Now they might not get the training they need to do the job.  This is John Fox’s dilemma.

After reading this story, I thought I’d run a little Google (I’m decidedly behind the times so I actually use Yahoo) search to see how many other personnel people were talking about these new limitations.  I found some interesting stuff.

“It’s going to affect older players,” one AFC general manager said. “Because older players that need to have rest and need to be managed through the preseason are going to have to practice more. Coaches are going to say, ‘I don’t want to sign this guy. He can only do one-a-days in camp, or he’ll need a day off twice a week. I won’t be able to practice.’ Older, veteran teams are going to be impacted.”

The preseason games are really going to be impacted, because I think you’re going to see more players that you don’t want to see injured in preseason games injured,” the AFC general manager said. “Because they had to play more. And when those guys start getting hurt, there’s going to be an outcry about it and the whole preseason-game issue will resurface. (SI.com)

Think about that for a minute.  What are we going to see this preseason?  The NFL already hates it when someone calls those games “exhibitions” rather than preseason games.  Yeah, some exhibition if everybody is getting hurt, huh?

If you’re short on players to put into those meaningless games, experienced coaches will probably keep the regular starters out and safely on the bench.  Also, if those starters are having to take more reps in practice due to the lack of depth (or call it what it is – available bodies) in training camp, they might see less playing time than usual in those crappy exhibitions we’re paying the same amount at the gate to see.

Our hated rivals, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, were holding a recent OTA and had over 90 players show up.  That sounds like a great number, right?  Here’s what Jon Gruden told NFL Network.

“We obviously added some players that we’re excited about.  We’re trying to get them caught up in terms of what we want to do.  We’re only allowed to take 80 guys to camp.  Now I don’t understand that rule but we’re gonna have to cut the roster down to get to 80.  Let alone figuring out who’s starting, who’s gonna get what reps with what group.”

What’s surprising is that we’re talking about John Fox and Jon Gruden – two veteran coaches who have been through their share of NFL wars.  They understand the game.  One is mulling his options and might have to break camp early while the other is not so sure yet how he’ll be breaking down the team to provide proper reps for his players.

But the impact doesn’t stop there.  This new limit could also cramp the style of players considered specialists.

We’re not taking a second snapper to camp,” said Baltimore executive vice president/general manager Ozzie Newsome. “We know it’s going to be tough at certain positions. Teams are all looking for that punter who can kick off, or a kicker who can punt. Anything that helps you save a roster spot. There are positions where you’ve got to have extra bodies because you need fresh legs to practice.”

Gary Zauner, a former Vikings, Ravens and Cardinals special teams coach, is now a Phoenix-based special teams consultant who trains kickers, punters and snappers and helps them find roster spots within professional football. Several NFL teams have contacted him this spring seeking candidates for double duty in camp, rather than the top-rated prospect at any one particular position.

“They’re no longer taking the best guy, they’re taking the guy who is the most convenient for them given the 80-man limit,” Zauner said. “To me, it’s just a case where the NFL didn’t look at this decision long enough. Everybody’s trying to maximize the combination guy rather than the true specialists. Teams are saying get me a kicker who can punt, or a punter who can field goal kick and kick off. But the guys they’re bringing in aren’t as quality as they can be. Almost no one is bringing in two of everything this year. You need two kickers, two punters and two snappers to get through camp and get guys some rest. It’s going to be a problem unless it’s addressed.”  (SI.com)

Right now, this is an issue that has yet to really cause a lot of noise.  Most coaches and personnel guys aren’t speaking up about it.  Yet.  They will be, believe me.

The surprising thing is that the union isn’t up in arms about it.  More players in camp means more players who could potentially make it into the league.  The problem is that the fewer players there are, the fewer who will have any work with NFL clubs and therefore a much less experienced group of free agents to draw from once injuries begin to hit teams during the season.

One other potential impact that isn’t being mentioned – each year teams spend 24 to 48 hours after the draft furiously attempting to sign undrafted free agents.  Now, because of the lack of exemptions, fewer of these young players will stick with the teams who signed them.

Sure, it’s possible that more of them will have the freedom to seek work elsewhere but where?  With fewer spots available, that just means one more guy is out of work.

It’s a cruel business to consider ane player to simply be training camp fodder – brought in, beat up by the starters, given no real chance to make the roster, and then released – but that’s how it works.  Besides, if there’s no spot for the player considered only to be training camp fodder, then they don’t even have a chance to make the practice squad.

It will be no surprise if this doesn’t become a major issue this season and even an issue for discussion when the league and the union are negotiating a new deal.

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Tags: Carolina Panthers John Fox Jon Gruden Roster Limits

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