The NFL has changed some rules for the 2020 season. Due to the possibility of players missing games due to Covid-19 teams are allowed to protect players on their practice squad.
Non-protected players are able to be signed by other teams to their active roster. For Week 5 the Steelers are protecting wide receiver Deon Cain, outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott, defensive end Henry Mondeaux and running back Wendell Smallwood. These players will not be able to sign with another team until after the Steelers game against the Eagles Sunday.
So, why are the Steelers protecting these players?
WR Deon Cain
Cain looked good last year when given a chance. I thought there was a chance that he could make the active roster this year and it’s not a huge surprise that he is being protected on the practice squad.
Juju Smith-Schuster is set to be a free agent after the season. If he doesn’t resign in Pittsburgh Cain would give the Steelers another young receiver to add to Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, and James Washington.
OLB Jayrone Elliott
The Steelers are already giving Alex Highsmith and Ola Adeniyi snaps at outside linebacker. This could an effort to be prepared for the possible loss of Bud Dupree this off-season, who is an impending free agent.
If Highsmith or Adeniyi were to become a starter in 2021, Elliott could find himself in a reserve role. Protecting him means the Steelers have seen something they like. Not to mention that the Steelers consider their outside linebacker position to be one of the most important positions on their 3-4 defense. So having a player on their practice squad who is ready to step up to the active roster makes a lot of sense.
DE Henry Mondeaux
Given the Steelers’ depth along the defensive line, this protection makes sense. The Steelers like Mondeaux and keeping him around gives them a player who can be brought onto the active roster if the Steelers have any injuries along the defensive line.
RB Wendell Smallwood
Smallwood has a quality run in Philadelphia from 2016-2018. With the Eagles, he played as a dual-threat running back. Smallwood played in 15 games for Washington in 2019 and signed with the Steelers this off-season.
Protecting Smallwood makes sense because he is an NFL-capable back-up running back. If the Steelers see injuries at runningback Smallwood makes sense as an addition to the roster.