In 2020, the NFL introduced several new rules to aid teams with their roster in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of those rules was the ability to protect up to four of the 16 players on their practice squad from being poached each week by another organization.
This would allow teams to make sure they had added depth at certain positions—like quarterback—where the risk of losing a player would have significant negative results if the player left for another team.
The NFL has decided to keep this new rule in place for the 2021 season and teams are free to protect players starting the Tuesday ahead of each week.
This week, per the NFL transaction report, the Detroit Lions have elected to protect the maximum four players, including:
- Steven Montez, QB
- Bruce Hector, DL
- Jalen Elliott, S
- Zane Gonzalez, K
With Tim Boyle on injured reserve, the Lions only have two quarterbacks on the active roster, Jared Goff and David Blough, so protecting Montez as their third option is a no-brainer decision. As long as Montez proves his value in practice, he will likely be a protected player each week until Boyle is healthy and ready to return.
Hector is quite frankly the best player on the Lions practice squad, so again, a wise decision.
Elliot gives the Lions insurance at safety and on special teams, where he has shown he can play key roles. If any number of players is injured, Elliott has the ability to cover the Lions in a lot of situations.
Gonzalez looks like a bit of a strange protection on the surface, but it speaks a potential concern with the Lions kicking game. Austin Seibert was claimed off of waiver to be the team's kicker but coach Dan Campbell said there is still a competition at the position.
In fact, if Gonzalez proves to be the better kicker in practice this week, the Lions may elect to take advantage of another COVID-19 carryover rule and he could be promoted to the active roster on game day. If he shows well there, he may be signed to the 53-man roster after Week 1, when a veteran’s contract is no longer guaranteed for the season.