Sidelines are crowded because NFL teams are carrying 90-man rosters throughout preseason

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FILE - Houston Texans wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson (19) is pursued into the end zone by New England Patriots cornerback Quandre Mosely during the second half of an NFL preseason football game Aug. 10, 2023, in Foxborough, Mass. Hutchinson, a sixth-round pick out of Iowa State, is among the players fighting to earn a roster spot. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

More NFL hopefuls are getting an opportunity to stick around a little longer to showcase their skills this summer.

When the league eliminated the first two rounds of roster cuts in March, it allowed teams to carry 90 players throughout the preseason. Rosters have to be trimmed to 53 by Aug. 29. Last year, rosters were cut to 85 after the first preseason game, to 80 after the second and then 53.

“I think all coaches like that,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said about one cut. “You get an opportunity to coach the guys all the way through and that last game, they get a lot of reps. Even when we were doing four games, that last game they got a ton of reps. I just think that’s a positive thing for the guys to have an opportunity to make a living at this thing, you know, shine.”

Jets coach Robert Saleh especially likes the change because “there’s so many guys who are making late surges where you’re just not sure and you just say: ‘God, if I could just have one more week with this guy,’ and sometimes you have to let those guys go.”

It also gives coaches more available players for practices and preseason games. More starters are playing less, if at all, in exhibition games.

“Just having the bodies so you’re not wearing down these last two weeks of camp, where you can hold practices," Saleh said. “There’s still a lot of guys battling for those back-end roster spots and special teams, and every year, it feels like it’s the same case where you’re just begging to have a few more days with certain young men and sometimes you can’t.”

Texans rookie wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson, a sixth-round pick out of Iowa State, is among the players fighting to earn a roster spot. He’s learning to play special teams for the first time in his football career to give him an advantage because versatility helps.

“I’m learning something very new to myself,” Hutchinson said. “I’m excited to see what I can do on (special teams), and excited to see if that can be a part of me helping the team out.”

Packers running back Patrick Taylor, who signed as an undrafted free agent out of Memphis in 2020, has bounced between Green Bay’s practice squad and the active roster after being among the final cuts in each of the past two seasons. He was released a few more times during the regular season but still appeared in 14 games in 2022.

“My main focus is on myself and controlling the things that I can control, such as my play and stuff like that,” Taylor said.

Bills veteran linebacker A.J. Klein appreciates the expanded preseason rosters for a couple of reasons.

“I think it’s good for the veterans who obviously need a little less workload off their legs throughout the preseason especially the second and third — used to be fourth — preseason game,” Klein said. “But it also gives the younger guys an opportunity to get more tape out there, especially with the expanded practice squad rosters and the COVID rules and all the stuff that’s that’s been carried over. It’s beneficial for everybody, for the established veterans, but also for the young guys who are looking for a major opportunity early on in preseason.”

One cutdown deadline will make things more difficult for personnel staffs because 1,184 players will become available at the same time on Aug. 29. Teams are relying on their scouting evaluations to be prepared to scoop up talented players who get cut. Plus, they’ll be busy assembling a 16-man practice squad so it will be hectic.

“I don’t mean there is stress that way, but man there are players when that happens,” Broncos coach Sean Payton said. “That’s how we found (Saints tight end) Taysom Hill. He was one of those players.”

Payton, who coached New Orleans from 2006-21, brought Hill to the Saints in 2017 after he was released by the Packers.

“I would say a lot of time and energy is spent on the right 53,” Payton said. “That’s what I think about, the right 53. We try to educate our players not to just look at the line in front of them. If you are a receiver, you’re competing against the other 31 teams’ depth at receiver as well. That’s important. It’s hard for them to understand that.”

Payton makes an important point. There’s no time to rest or celebrate for players on the back end of a roster because they can be cut the next day.


AP Pro Football Writer Dennis Waszak and AP Sports Writers Steve Megargee and John Wawrow contributed.