The Plight of Paul Richardson

Hey Seahawks! I’ve got some terrific news! Your second round pick from last year is fully healed and ready to join the squad. Isn’t that great? Wait. Why are your forcing a smile? I know you remember Paul Richardson, the guy with blazing speed, who started making an impact at wide receiver late last year before tearing up his knee. Ohhh…I get it. You don’t know what to do with him. That says a fair bit about him and your upgraded receiver room. Well, he has to go somewhere, so let’s take a look at our options.

Adding Richardson to the 53

This is the easy part. The way the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) designation works is that a player is not eligible to return to practice until week six of the NFL season. That time has come and gone, so all PUP players are eligible to begin practice if the team believes they are ready. Richardson has not started practicing yet, which is important.
Teams have until week eleven, a full five week window, to bring a PUP player back to the practice field. Once they start practicing, a new timer starts. They have twenty-one days to put that PUP player on their active roster once he starts practicing. That means Richardson could start practicing this week, but not be added to the roster for another three weeks. Expect Seattle to utilize all of that time. 
A receiver could be injured. Any player could be injured. It does not make a lot of sense to rush Richardson back on the active roster and force a roster move. Let’s assume for now that nothing changes between now and when the team needs to make a decision with Richardson.
They could:
(a) Add him to the active roster and waive someone else
(b) Let the window expire and keep Richardson on PUP the rest of the year
Taking that second path would be a pretty bitter pill to swallow for a guy who busted his ass to rehab and sounded like he probably could have started the season on the active roster. 
There are only a couple of places the team could go to create space for bringing Richardson back:
  • C Lemuel Jeanpierre was just brought back after Patrick Lewis was injured. It is not clear they need to carry three centers
  • WR B.J. Daniels has already been waived once, and plays Richardson’s position
Daniels would be the obvious choice.

Getting to game day

Richardson almost certainly will be added to the 53-man roster this season. He is healthy and highly drafted. The tougher question will be whether there is room for him on the active game day roster. Seattle has a roomful of receivers that are playing well, contribute on special teams, and offer unique attributes. There is not an obvious place where Richardson just slides in.
Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse are the starters. They will not be losing any snaps to Richardson. Tyler Lockett is plenty fast, and has already shown a greater ability to create separation and make big plays than Richardson did at any point last year. He also is the kick and punt returner, so he obviously won’t be getting pushed down any depth chart. 
Ricardo Lockette is a guy who could lose some receiver snaps to Richardson, but there is no way the team would activate Richardson over Lockette on game day due to Lockette’s role on special teams. 
That really leaves Chris Matthews. Typically, the fourth and fifth Seahawks receivers are judged more by their ability to contribute on special teams than their ability to catch the football. Matthews is an important special teams player. He also has a unique body type for this receiver corps that, while it has yet to be utilized this season, does factor into roster assembly. It is not clear to me that the team would put Richardson over Matthews on the active roster due to these two factors.
That would leave the team’s second round pick from last season as a healthy scratch for most games. Ouch. 
For folks who are dying to see Richardson back on the field, do not lose all hope. The key is to find a way onto the active roster. The best way for that to happen is for him to open enough eyes at practice that he forces the coaches to make a tough decision. Beating out guys on special teams seems pretty unlikely given his build and skill set, so it will have to be as a receiver.
Once he breaches the active roster, the Seahawks won’t hesitate to mix him in there. He can spell Kearse, but more likely would take some of the snaps currently going to Lockette and Matthews. 

Next steps

I was not blown away by what I saw from Richardson in camp or during the season last year, but his growth was obvious before he got hurt. That upwards trajectory bodes well as rookie receivers often struggle to acclimate to NFL gameplay. There is no reason to be pessimistic about Richardson’s NFL prospects, but there is also little reason to force him into the lineup. He has not earned that yet. 
Keep an eye on when he starts practicing. If the team holds him out another week, it really starts to look like they are dragging their feet. On the flip side, if they add him to the active roster this week, it would signal the team really wants him back and has a clear role in mind for him where he could help the team. 
I expect something in-between. He will practice this week, but the team will not activate him for at least a couple of weeks. Given they have a bye after this game, it might be the full three weeks before they make a roster move. I think we will see Richardson on the field for the Seahawks this season. How and when are tougher questions to answer.

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