How it can work, and make both J.C. and the fans happy
Here is one concrete proposal, in which I have plugged in my own numbers. Of course, anyone else can plug in different numbers. My reasoning is that the bulk of positions do not need to be completed in the summer. Corrections can be applied a few weeks later than usual.
1. 40 roster spots would be chosen on about July 15, or at any rate prior to the exhibition games. These Fabulous 40 players are guaranteed to have a roster spot on Opening Day.
These players would be held out of the exhibition games and cannot be cut from the team until after the first game. Nothing would make me happier than seeing the veterans like Tretter get a little rest before the long season, whether it is 16, 17 or however many games.
2. The remaining 50 players will compete for 13 active roster spots and 12 practice squad spots, and it is these 50 players who will play in the exhibition games. In other words, they have a 50-50 chance of making the team in some capacity.
3. Those 13 roster spots are awarded on cutdown day, after the fourth exhibition game, as normal, and added to the 40 already identified. Instead of releasing the rest of the players, however, 12 practice squad players are also chosen from those eligible and signed for the first week of the season.
4. At cutdown date, after Preseason Week 4, the players who do not make the 53-player roster or the 12-player practice squad would not go immediately on waivers. They would have to sit out at least the opening game before they can be signed to new NFL teams. That ensures that the players in summer camp are going to be the ones you will see on Opening Day.
5. If a player goes on IR prior to Week 1, or the coach gets mad and wants to cut someone, that’s fine, but the replacement needs to come from the 12-player reserve squad, not someone cut from another team, because the waiver wire is suspended (see above). NFL teams spend all summer developing a product, so why not use the product at least one time before throwing it overboard?
The reserve squad would be allowed to replace its roster spots with eligible players from the original 90-player squad, or from an outsider not previously signed to any NFL summer roster. There’s no practical situation in which a team can literally run out of players.
In the case of the Browns last year, as one example, they cut popular tight end and fullback Orson Charles to sign Rico Gathers in the middle of summer camp. Then the initial cutdown, Gathers was gone, and Ricky Seals-Jones came to town. You can see why the Browns made the moves — it’s a good idea to look at several players to pick one who is pretty good. But you can also see it diminishes the value of the exhibition game because nothing in the preseason prepared us to meet Ricky Seals-Jones, who literally came out of nowhere.
The owners have the ability to make the preseason games a better product by reducing the player moves, in effect encouraging the 53-player roster to draw from the players the team brings into summer camp rather than random players after cutdown. Just slow it down, guys. Use the product you developed in the preseason one time. Then if you still hate it you can throw it away again. and go back to the shark feeding frenzy.