New Practice Squad Rules Give Seahawks Flexibility at Receiver Behind 'Fantastic Four'

The more team-friendly practice squad rules from 2020 are back and retooled for the upcoming NFL season. As a result, the Seahawks will be able to run out a fifth receiver by committee.
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RENTON, WA — In true Pete Carroll fashion, competition could be found at nearly every corner of the Seahawks’ roster this summer. At the receiver spot, a handful of players jockeyed for position with at least one—possibly two—open slots seemingly available on the team’s initial 53-man squad.

In the end, there were none.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Seahawks officially waived and released 29 combined players as they trimmed down to 53. Seven receivers were handed their walking papers, while only four remained: DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Dee Eskridge and Freddie Swain.

“The Fantastic Four,” coined Carroll following Wednesday’s practice.

Although this surprised some, it may have been Seattle’s plan all along. The receiver market is, more or less, an oversaturated one. Around the league, there were 126 wideouts cut by their respective teams this week. That kind of volume made it relatively easy for teams to sneak their receivers through the waiver wire and back onto their practice squads.

For the Seahawks, the practice squad is the key to their strategy at the receiver position. Under new league rules, teams are now allowed to sign up to 16 players to their practice squad. Four players can be protected from being signed by other teams each week, while two can be elevated to the active roster every game day—just as it was in 2020. However, there are no longer limitations on how many times a player can be promoted this year. There is one catch to that, though: if a player is elevated a third time, they’ll have to clear waivers before they can be signed back to the practice squad.

But essentially, the Seahawks can still carry a fifth receiver per game and not have to be committed to one single player. They can rotate Penny Hart, Cody Thompson, Cade Johnson and Aaron Fuller—as well as any other receiver they may sign in the future—as many times as they want, in theory.

“We got a lot of guys that we’ve really liked during this camp and through the offseason that are with us,” Carroll said. “So we have some flexibility.”

Of the four, Hart and Thompson may be the likeliest to hear their numbers called on the first few Sundays of the season. Both are above-average special teams players and earned loads of praise from their head coach throughout the summer, making their respective cuts on Tuesday all the more noteworthy. Hart’s was especially eye-catching, though an ankle injury suffered in the team’s mock game back in early August kept him out for most of the preseason and training camp. But after appearing in 13 games last year and dominating voluntary OTAs and mandatory minicamp this spring, it was widely expected that he had a job locked down.

Nevertheless, Hart should be Seattle’s de facto No. 1 option off the practice squad once the season gets started. But a rotation may be put in place in order to stretch out eligibility and avoid the risk of losing anyone following a potential third elevation. Eventually, the Seahawks may settle on a name and finally sign a fifth wideout to their active roster. That's a bridge they'll cross when they get to it, however. 

In the meantime, what the new rules also offer is a chance to continue evaluations of the four pass catchers on the practice squad. This preseason, some poor quarterback play from Sean Mannion and Alex McGough severely restricted Seattle's young receivers from being able to properly prove their worth—particularly in the team’s first two matchups against the Raiders and Broncos.

So for Carroll’s crew, the competition doesn’t stop at the end of August. In fact, it’s only just begun—and Hart, Thompson, Johnson and Fuller will continue their battle well into the regular season.