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New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton enters the field to start the game during the first half on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL.

Sean Payton took a question about position versatility into an unexpected, but valid direction when he let it be known that the league needs to expand roster if it really cares about player safety..

“The 46-man roster on game day is soon to be, I think, will soon be dated,” Payton said. “I think that’s got to change. If we’re interested in health and safety, and it sounds like we are, that’s something that we talk about a lot, that number should be higher. It will affect the overall roster size. It might cost a little bit more money, but that’s the price.”

This is something Payton has talked about a few times this season, but teams would have to expand rosters to make this happen. Simply having everyone active on the 53-man roster would create a competitive disadvantage for teams with injured players. To make this work, teams would have to have more players on the roster, which would then increase the overall numbers and overall cost for owners.

That’s why Payton said it was an “ownership-only decision” and that it has nothing to do with the competition committee, which the Saints coach joined last season. He also noted there is support around the league to change the numbers on game day.

But none of that helps this season.

The Saints have been in some games this season where they've taken some players off the field. Cincinnati was one of those games, but there were only a few players who don’t typically log snaps in the game. On defense, cornerbacks Justin Hardee and Ken Crawley, safeties Banjo and Josh Robinson, and linebacker Craig Robertson entered the game. On offense, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, running back Dewayne Washington and offensive lineman Cameron Tom saw more action.

Now, these changes came on the fly. If the Saints wanted to rest their starters, and knew they could do so ahead of time, which they might be able to do in the regular-season finale by clinching the top seed this week with a win over the Steelers, they could rest more guys.  But hard truth is it will never be possible to rest all of the starters because there aren't enough roster spots.

“People say, ‘Hey, rest your starters,’” Payton said. “You ever look though, on a sideline, during a game? We play Cincinnati this year and people say rest your starters and we’re talking about three different changes maybe. That’s different than obviously in college where you have a large number of players on the sideline.”

If Payton is right, change is coming, but it won’t be here fast enough to make a difference this year.


Follow Nick Underhill on Twitter, @nick_underhill.​