Breaking Down NFL Roster Rules
The numbers game surrounding roster construction in the NFL will forever be a preference-based ideology. Management and coaches will hold deep conversations, selecting the portions of the team where they see depth beneficial. The skill set of the player also plays a role into submitting him into the correct position on paper. At the beginning of the season, the roster can have a maximum of 52 players. The breakdown usually favors the defense, with one or two extra players being rostered on that side of the ball. Offensive selections are based on needs. For example, a team that trusts the health and skills of their quarterbacks will only roster 2 players, staffing the practice squad in case of emergency. A team might be heavy in the wide receiver or tight end department, pending the player's additional usage. Some of the best return men and special teams' players come from these positions, drawing a dual importance to their rostering. Historically, a team will only roster 9 offensive lineman, calling for a few players to wear additional hats. Being slid from guard to outside tackle is a fate some of the rostered players have to accept.
The construction of these rosters depends on the philosophy being preached by the coaches and the demands of the management group. While the coach should have the biggest say in the rostering or cutting of a player, he/she is greatly influenced by the management group. Teams searching for an identity might pool their talent ahead of taking historical construction routes. This is a move used to get a rebuild of a roster off the ground. The same can be shown when expansion teams enter the league. They stack the skilled positions to ensure they feature enough offensive fire power and can hold their own on defense.
Roster construction also must stick within the defined salary cap for that season. To account for an increase in league revenue and earnings, the salary cap for each team will go up. In 2018, the total cap number for each team trends just above $177, up $10 million from last year. A $10 million hike seems to be the pattern from year to year. Teams can become creative in the way they construct their roster. When it comes to player signings, ownership can choose to frontload or backload contracts, breaking down the total contract into team friendly or player friendly options. The backloading works to benefit the team, especially if the contract covers many years. This affords the team the ability to trade a player before they reach those higher paying years. Regardless, each time must run the books and ensure they are under the cap number before the season starts, which is why we often see teams trimming some veteran players near the end of training camp. The calculations are constant, causing the reasoning to reach far beyond player performance or output.
Since the NFL operates under a hard cap, there is no room for overhead or overages. This structure is built into the NBA, but bargaining agreements helped the NFL define their cap and stick to the process from team to team. That is why the overall success of the league is the biggest predictor of the salary cap the following season. The league disperses 95% of its revenue throughout NFL teams, setting a hard cap for each team to follow before the off-season is to begin. This keeps NFL teams and number crunches prepared and practiced before the cuts and contracts become obligatory.