How NFL rule changes helped Dez Bryant find a chance with the Ravens

Andrew Gillis
·3 min read

How NFL rule changes could propel Dez Bryant's comeback on Ravens originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The fact that the Ravens were able to bring Dez Bryant onto the practice squad is fact enough to speak to how weird of a year 2020 is in the NFL. 

Bryant, 31, hasn’t played in the NFL since 2017. He’s also a three-time Pro Bowl receiver and has even been named an All-Pro and could very well be the most accomplished practice squad player in NFL history. 

And while the veteran receiver has since torn his Achilles tendon and still needs to prove to the Ravens he’s healthy and able to contribute on the field, the question on everyone’s mind is how he can see the field.

Bryant was only able to sign with the Ravens due to the unique expanded rosters for the 2020 season. Defensive tackle Damon Harrison, also 31, is in the same boat as Bryant as a member of the Seahawks’ practice squad.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL expanded the size of a team’s practice squad to include up to 16 players per team. Of those 16 players, up to six are able to be on the roster with more than two accrued seasons as an NFL player. Under previous seasons, Bryant wouldn’t be eligible (though the new CBA allowed for two practice squad players per team with an unlimited number of accrued seasons). Bryant’s status as an eight-year veteran is irrelevant in this case as the Ravens fit the criteria.

With Bryant in the fold now, there’s a few options for the Ravens to make him available on gameday. The easiest answer is for the team to officially sign him from the practice squad to the 53-man roster, which would make him part of the team in the most traditional sense. Then, he’d have to earn the spot to be an active player on gameday.

There are a few other options for Bryant, though.

This year, active rosters can include 48 players (instead of the previous 46) as long as eight of those players are offensive linemen. Gameday roster size is limited to 47 players if there are not eight active offensive linemen. 

In the Ravens’ last game against the Eagles, five starting offensive linemen (Ronnie Stanley, Bradley Bozeman, Matt Skura, Tyre Phillips and Orlando Brown Jr.) were made active. They made three reserve linemen active (Patrick Mekari, Ben Powers and D.J. Fluker) as well. They currently have 10 linemen on the roster, meaning if they want to make 48 players active, no more than two can be inactive in a given week. 

With a few extra roster slots, Bryant has a better chance of making the active roster on game days. 

Also, teams are able to carry 55 players on their rosters during the week by elevating one or two players from the practice squad before 4 p.m. Saturday (or whatever day is before their game) to give them a larger pool of players to select the gameday roster from. Of note is that no player may be activated for that rule specifically for more than two games without having to clear waivers. The Ravens only have that option for him twice.

Each week a team can protect four players on its practice squad from being signed by another team. If the Ravens decide to protect Bryant, he won’t be able to be plucked away from the Ravens.

If Bryant is to leave Baltimore after another team claims him, that team must put him on the 53-man roster immediately. There are no practice squad-to-practice squad transactions. 

With all of those stipulations, there are a few ways — more than in other years — Bryant can see the field as a Raven. But if he proves he’s up to the task on the practice fields in Owings Mills, he’ll be active on gameday sooner rather than later.