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While fans await league zagging, NFL reportedly discussing zigging on roster size

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Seattle Seahawks v Cleveland Browns Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

With the calendar flipping to July, it means that training camp is scheduled to open later this month, which could mean actual football news. For fans of the Seattle Seahawks, that means a chance to hear about the prospects of players like Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny returning from season ending injury, while also looking forward to hearing about the youngsters on the roster fringes who could make an impact during the preseason and sneak their way onto the 53 man roster.

Given the recent explosion in COVID-19 cases in many places, fans and media have widely discussed expanding rosters this season in order to allow for suitable replacements should a team see a significant number of players become unavailable as a result of the highly contagious virus. However, leave it to the NFL to do the exact opposite of what most observers would expect. Or, rather, to at least discuss doing the exact opposite of what most observers would expect.

One of the most difficult aspects of preventing infection among players during training camp is the fact that so many people are packed into such small areas. Beyond just the 90 players on the roster, teams have dozens of other personnel who are involved with training camp. From the training staff to the coaching staff to the scouting and front office personnel who are there to see how the players they scouted in college perform on the NFL practice field.

The Seahawks have a coaching staff that numbers 29 members, and that only includes the coaches and strength and conditioning staff. Adding in trainers, medical personnel, equipment people and others, and the number of people involved on a daily basis is likely in excess of 150. In states like New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Washington and others that appear to have the pandemic under some sort of control, this is not likely to be as much of an issue. On the flip side, though, states where large case spikes have been seen recently as in Florida, Texas, California and Arizona, greater issues could arise.

Specifically in Arizona, where case numbers have skyrocketed in recent weeks, mass gatherings of 50 people or more have been banned by the governor through basically the time when the Arizona Cardinals are scheduled to open training camp.

Obviously, as the situation is fluid and ever changing, what teams and the league will do is likely to change in the coming days and weeks. That said, while at first the idea of decreasing roster sizes may seem counterintuitive, it makes sense from an exposure standpoint. The smaller the number of individuals involved in training camps and practices, the lower the likelihood that an individual with the virus will be able to expose the others.

The risk of death for players from the virus is obviously low, but it isn’t just players who will be put at risk by the start of camp. Of the 29 members of the Seahawks coaching staff, three - Pete Carroll, Mike Solari and Pat Ruel - are in their 60s, with Ruel set to turn 70 later this season. Add in that Ken Norton Jr, Sanjay Lal and Pat McPherson are in their 50s, and it’s suddenly not a small group of individuals who could potentially fall in the higher risk category.

If the NFL were to choose to use smaller rosters during training camp, rather than larger, it would seem evident that the players most likely to be impacted could be those fringe roster players battling to keep their job. Would a player like George Fant have made the Seahawks roster if the training camp roster for the Seahawks had only been 75 or 80 players in 2016? Doug Baldwin made the 53 man roster after surviving the cut from the then-80 offseason roster of 2011, as the league only expanded camp rosters to 90 spots during the 2012 offseason. That being the case, it wasn’t all that long ago that camp rosters were smaller than they currently are, so it may not be quite as big a change as some might expect.

In any case, as the season slowly approaches, football will hopefully offer a much needed form of entertainment and distraction, assuming we actually get training camp and a season.