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NFL owners set rule changes, 90-man rosters for camp, and next year’s salary cap ceiling

Also, no restrictions for vaccinated players.

NFL: NFL Draft Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It was a bit of a busy day in the NFL today, as owners met virtually with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and others at 1:00 PM ET. There were a lot of important nuggets packed into the meetings, so let’s get right to them:

No Restrictions for Vaccinated Players

The league provided updated COVID-19 protocols for vaccinated vs. non-vaccinated players. The differences are, obviously, staggering. In short, if you’re vaccinated, you’re basically “back to normal.” If you’re not vaccinated, then you’re pretty much going to have to abide by how things were during the 2020 season.

Salary Cap Ceiling Set for 2022

Pre-pandemic, the expected salary cap for the 2021 season was $210 million. Because of the pandemic, it should have ended up being around $160 million. However, it was agreed to set the floor at $180 million, with teams essentially “borrowing” $20 million in cap from future years.

That’s why the ceiling of $208.2 million for 2022 makes sense. The cap typically rises about $10 million each year, so if the 2022 pre-pandemic estimate was around $220 million, then you can see how it’s still a nice $20-million increase from the actual 2021 cap, but short of what things would have been without the pandemic.

NOTE: The number below is the ceiling, meaning the highest that it can go. Since the 2022 floor hasn’t been set yet, it’s still possible the cap is set lower — but that won’t be known until next offseason.

90-Man Rosters are Back

This was to be expected, but 90-man rosters are back for training camp in 2021, and we know the cutdown dates too:

  • Cut rosters to 85 players by August 17
  • Cut rosters to 80 players by August 24
  • Cut rosters to 53 players by August 31

Low Blocks Outside the Box Eliminated

This will definitely be something that coaches will have to emphasize to players. A new rule adopted for the 2021 season has eliminated all low blocks that take place outside the tackle box. Here is an example of a block that would now result in a 15-yard penalty:

Other Rule Changes

Prior to the NFL Draft, some rule changes were passed for the 2021 season that I did not have a chance to highlight. In case you missed them, here is a quick summary of what else is new for 2021:

  • No more overtime in the preseason.
  • Previously, on onside kicks, the receiving team was allowed to have 10 or 11 players in the “setup zone” to receive the onside kick. Now, for a one-year experiment, a maximum of 9 players will be allowed in that zone. This is an attempt to improve the kicking team’s odds of recovering an onside kick.
  • The NFL Replay Official will gain more power this year. They can radio down to the on-field officials to tell them “whether a catch was completed or not; the touching of a loose ball, boundary line, goal line, or end line; the relation of the football to the boundary line or first-down marker; and whether a player is down by contact.” If the replay official acts quick enough, it would prevent teams from having to waste a challenge on such calls.
  • In the past, if a team would throw a second forward pass, it would only lead to a five-yard penalty. Now, it’ll also be a loss of down tacked onto it.
  • You definitely heard about this one previously — jersey numbers expanded to other positions.