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Roster Cuts: Remembering the ‘Vested Veteran’ rule, and how it affects week one rosters

Here’s why young Chargers shouldn’t celebrate making the active roster until week two of the NFL’s regular season.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Chargers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Almost a year ago, charismatic fan-favorite nose tackle Breiden Fehoko received the news that he would break camp as an active member of the 53-man roster for the first time in his career. It was his third preseason with the Chargers, and despite showing promise as a run-stuffer, he had been regulated to the practice squad his first two years with the team. Fehoko would see time on the active roster with game-day activations each year, playing two games his rookie year and eight in his second season, and even notched a start to his name.

An emotional Fehoko was given the chance to speak to the media, where he discussed how much this moment meant to him, tearing up in front of the cameras as he described telling his family that he made the team. Fans rechoiced; he had won them over immediately during a Hard Knocks feature his rookie year. Fehoko made podcast appearances celebrating the news, and Sports Illustrated’s FanNation site even featured a lengthy write-up that claimed he “[beat] out the likes of Christian Covington.”

This was all very difficult to watch as someone who was a fan of Breiden, and had an understanding of how the “vested veteran” rule works in the CBA.

Like many rules in the CBA, the vested veteran rule was implemented with the intention of increasing protections and benefits to the players that manage to make a career out of the NFL. It establishes a player as “vested” after their fourth accrued season in the NFL, and along with yearly pay minimum bumps, grants additional benefits to these players like forgoing the waiver wire if they are cut in-season, and most importantly, guaranteeing their salary if they are on an active roster in week one of the regular season.

Although the intent was to protect these veterans, like many rule-changes in the CBA, it didn’t take long for general managers to figure out how to manipulate it. Now, veterans fighting for the last few spots on an active roster must prove they are worth a fully-guaranteed commitment from their team, when there is often younger talent in camp and additional veterans in free agency that could replace them without such a significant commitment.

This made Fehoko’s media tour very tough to see, as Christian Covington was one of these depth veterans that suffered from this rule. As expected, the Chargers would go on to sign Covington to the practice squad following week one cuts, and swap him with Fehoko’s spot in week two when guaranteeing Covington’s salary was no longer an issue. It seems trivial, but had they guaranteed Covington’s salary that first week, he would have made his entire contracted amount of $1,272,500. According to OvertheCap, his earnings on the year ended up totalling $817,778.

Today, we’ve seen this rule prompt action from Tom Telesco, as he traded away Dustin Hopkins to the Cleveland Browns for a seventh round pick in the 2025 draft. Had Hopkins remained with the team, his guaranteed salary this year would have ballooned from $1,100,000 to $2,230,000, and if the Chargers eventually cut him his entire $3,085,147 cap hit would have been dead money. Luckily for Telesco, a team was willing to trade for him, and save the Bolts $2,285,147 against the cap this year and $4,750,000 next season.

There are another few other roster-bubble veterans that could see the same treatment Covington received last year. Essentially, if Tom and Brandon Staley believe a player is a marginal upgrade over a younger player, and might prefer bouncing him between the practice squad and active roster, we may some of these vets waived and stashed on the practice squad in week one.

  • Nick Williams, DL, nine accrued seasons. Cap hit: $1,005,000 (he’s actually making $1,165,000, but since he was signed to the vet minimum, the Veteran Salary Benefit rule reduces his cap hit to the minimum for a second-year player). As with last year, the Chargers may decide to keep a young nose tackle like Jerrod Clark initially, before re-signing WIlliams to the active squad after week one.
  • Will Clapp, C, four accrued seasons. Cap hit: $1,040,000. Does Staley think Brenden Jaimes can be a serviceable backup center, or is Will Clapp an every-week backup? This one is extremely unlikely, as Clapp is more than likely an active roster mainstay this year.

Easton Stick was almost added to this list, but he already has a guaranteed salary of $1,000,000. Retaining him after camp would only guarantee an additional $647,500.

Two names that Chargers fans will remember that were impacted by this rule last year were Oday Aboushi and Michael Schofield. Schofield spent training camp with the Chicago Bears and was waived during final cuts. Aboushi actually hadn’t been signed through the offseason, as he was rehabbing from tearing his ACL in week five of the 2021 season. Schofield signed to the practice squad with the Bears after clearing waivers, and Oday was still unsigned through week one, when they would have received fully guaranteed contracts had they been rostered. Schofield signed to the Bears’ active roster prior to their week two matchup, and Oday was signed to the Rams practice squad that same week before being elevated to the active roster after week two. Both players were starting by week six.

Ironically, Christian Covington was waived by the Lions yesterday. He will likely land on another active roster in week two, presumably back with the Lions.

The lesson to remember is that week one rosters are finicky, and players really haven’t survived cuts until they find themselves on the week two roster. This rule often leads to a couple surprise cuts every year, so it will be interesting to see if anyone is released whom the Chargers would have no problem offering a guaranteed salary to.