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The hidden 57-man roster; examining the four practice squad players the Cowboys are protecting

Who are these four “safe” practice squad players the Cowboys chose to protect?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Handout photo

There has been a lot of confusion about the new roster rules in place this season as the league attempts to deal with the impact of COVID-19. How many players are on the actual roster? How many can be kept on the practice squad? And how many can actually dress and be active on game day? Those are just a few of the questions many of us have had as we sort through the many changes of this abnormal 2020 season.

In short, it goes down like this:

  • the roster remains at 53 players
  • the practice squad has been upped from 10 to 16 players
  • game-day actives that was previously 46 can now go to 48 as long as eight of those players are offensive linemen

There are some other idiosyncrasies within the rules, but one that is rather important is the rule that protects some of the practice squad guys from being poach by other teams. Each week, NFL teams are allowed to choose four players from their practice squad that are off-limits to other teams. They can be the same guys. a completely new set, or some combination of the two. The decisions are made on a week by week basis. For the first week of the new season, the Cowboys have chosen the following players:

Many people expected linebacker Francis Bernard to make the initial 53, but surprisingly he was left off the list. And when he cleared waivers, it was a great sigh of relief to Cowboys fans as the team signed him to their practice squad. It’s not shocking in the least that Bernard is one of the players the team has chosen to protect.

Another undrafted free agent gem the team signed is defensive end Ron’Dell Carter. The team gave him the most guaranteed money of any of their practice squad signings, so it speaks to how high they are of the James Madison pass rusher. With such a deep group of edge rushers on the team, it’s nice to just keep Carter in their back pocket and develop him for as a potential piece for the future.

Fullback Sewo Olonilua is another player some had making the team when Jamize Olawale decided to opt out of the season. It wasn’t clear if new head coach Mike McCarthy was interested in saving a roster spot for a fullback, but that question was answered when Olonilua was left off the roster. The team must still see something they like in him to make him one of the selected four to get immunity. Currently, they are running a trial with their blocking tight ends handling the fullback role, but there is no guarantee that strategy will work. Keeping Olonilua on board could serve as a potential backup plan if that falls through.

The one decision most surprising comes in the form of cornerback Deante Burton. An UDFA by the Atanta Falcons in 2017, Burton is a practice squad veteran with additional stints with the Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, before signing with the Cowboys last November. This could be more of a precautionary move as the health of both Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie could present some depth issues at the position.

What do you think of these choices? Which four of these practice squad players would you have protected?