The 2020 NFL season won't look anything like what fans of the league are used to seeing. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every aspect of life, in general, and the NFL will be no exception.
The league already announced that the preseason will be reduced from four games to two, and it's still anyone's guess whether fans will actually attend games this year.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, another change is on the horizon, this time impacting how team rosters are shaped. The NFL is expected to reduce the size of training camp rosters from 90 to either 75 or 80 players.
One source said he believed it's likely that teams will go to camp with 80-man rosters, and another source said it's "definitely not 90." A third league source said he has "heard lots of discussion about 75 players potentially instead of 90," especially with the reduction in preseason games and teams not needing as many players for camp as normal.
While this change may not seem significant at first glance, players like tight end Jesper Horsted, who was in that range of players 81-90, may not have had a chance to earn his place on the Bears' active roster if it wasn't for the size of the training camp squads.
With that bad news is some potentially good news, too. Practice squads are projected to grow by several spots for 2020.
The NFL also is considering expanding its practice squads to 16-20 players in the event of a coronavirus outbreak; if there were one, teams would have a deeper stash of players to activate to play games.
Players at the bottom of the roster, who normally are fighting for a practice squad spot, will have a greater chance to earn a paycheck during the season because of the potential expansion of that squad. Their odds will increase even more if there's less competition for those gigs. Think about it: If training camp rosters shrink to 75, and the NFL allows for a 20-man practice squad, there's a chance that only two players will end the summer without some form of employment with the team.
It would make sense for the league to structure rosters this way. With two fewer preseasons games to evaluate the players and the need for more available backups in case of a COVID-19 outbreak, it's almost a necessity. The last thing clubs want to have to do is sign free agents off the street to replace a starter or even valuable reserve.
It'll be critically important for Ryan Pace to make sure the Bears' training camp roster is one that he's comfortable entering the season with. There may not be much wiggle room after teams announce their final cuts, considering there probably won't be many, to begin with. It'll be interesting to monitor the transaction wire after the league makes some of these roster decisions official.