Friday the Seattle Seahawks announced a small number of changes to the coaching staff for the 2019 season in advance of heading out for the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. One of the announcements that came as a bit of a surprise was that Austin Davis, who had formerly served as Russell Wilson’s backup as recently as the 2017 season would be joining the staff as an offensive assistant.
As offensive assistant Davis is filling the role which had been vacated when Steve Shimko was promoted to assistant quarterbacks coach, and places Davis in a role where he should be comfortable, due to his familiarity with the offense of assistant coach Brian Schottenheimer. Davis was in camp with the then St. Louis, but now, Los Angeles Rams all three seasons for which Schottenheimer was the offensive coordinator. Thus, Davis is obviously well versed in Schottenheimer’s offense and what is required of a quarterback in the system.
That leads to the question of whether or not the Hawks could simply have Davis as the backup quarterback in the off chance something were to happen to Russell. While it seems like a great idea - saving a roster spot by having the emergency quarterback be a member of the coaching staff, the NFL unfortunately frowns upon this. Specifically, there is already a rule in place that the league uses to prevent just such an occurrence.
No person employed by a club in any capacity other than as a player may play for any club in that same season unless he’s counted on the active list at the time of the roster reduction to 53 players.
In short, as soon as a player does any kind of work for an NFL team in any capacity other than as a player, that player must wait until the next season before they are eligible to play for a team. Thus, since Davis has now taken on a role as an assistant coach for the Hawks, unless he returns to the Hawks roster before cutdowns to 53 at the end of training camp, Davis cannot play for Seattle in 2019.
This is a not uncommon occurrence in the NFL, as it was less than six months ago that a similar situation arose with Terence Newman of the Minnesota Vikings. The situation for Newman was different in that he spent the offseason vying for a spot on the roster, and was only promoted to a coaching role on the eve of the 2018 NFL season. However, as soon as Newman took on a role as the nickel/defensive backs coach for the Vikings after the cuts to 53, the chances of him playing in the NFL last season were zero.
The NFL has dealt with owners and teams circumventing roster rules for decades, which needs no more evidence than the simple fact that practice squads are also referred to as taxi squads. The system isn’t perfect, and there are certainly teams that have exploited loopholes in the past, but this is one loophole the NFL closed some time ago.