An Explanation of the Practice Squad in the NFL

Yesterday, we briefly touched on how the waiver process in the NFL works.  At this point in the season, after the final cuts are made on 4 September, teams will be looking to fill out their practice squads.  The practice squad is a group of eight players that don't count towards the 53-man roster and don't actually get to participate in any games.  All they get to do is practice with the team.

Every year, we hear about players that might be good "practice squad candidates," but some of them may not even be eligible for the practice squad.  So, in hopes of alleviating such confusion, I'm going to briefly touch on stuff like who's eligible for the practice squad, the roster rules that govern the practice squad, and some other stuff.

We'll start with a brief description of the practice squad:

The practice squad shall consist of the following players, provided that they have not served more than two previous seasons on a Practice Squad: (i) players who do not have an Accrued Season of NFL experience; and (ii) free agent players who were on the Active List for fewer than nine regular season games during their only Accrued Season(s).

An NFL practice squad is generally made up of borderline NFL players. . .lower-round draft picks, unsigned free agents, those sorts of players.  In order to be eligible for the practice squad, a player has to meet the following requirements:

  • Have no prior Accrued Seasons in the NFL (An accrued season is six or more games on the active roster);
  • Have one prior Accrued Season in which the player was on the 45-man active roster for no more than 8 games; and,
  • Have been on the practice squad with a particular team no more than 2 prior seasons unless the team never had their active roster go below 53 players during the two years the player served on the practice squad. If that is the case, the player is eligible for a third practice squad season.

Yes, certain parts of that are a bit confusing, particularly the first two lines.  Remember, only 45 players are active on game days.  So, a guy can be on the 53-man roster and still not have been active for six games.  Or he could have been active for seven or eight games, gotten injured, and was then placed on IR or something.  He would then have an accrued season, but he wouldn't have been on the 45-man roster for more than eight games, thereby still making him eligible for the practice squad.

Now, one important thing to keep in mind is that players on the practice squad are always free agents, which means they're eligible to be signed away by other teams at any time.  There are a couple of caveats to this, however.  First off, a team can't sign a player from the practice squad of a team they're playing the next week.  So, say after we beat the Saints in Week 1, the Vikings' see a guy from the Miami Dolphins' practice squad that they like.  The Vikings couldn't sign that player prior to the Week 2 match-up against Miami, but they could sign him after they had played the Dolphins.

Also, if a team signs a player off of another team's practice squad, that player takes up a roster spot for his new team for at least three weeks, bye weeks included.  Even if the team chooses to release that player after one week of having him on the roster, he still counts against their 53-man roster for three weeks.  This also means that you can't sign a player away from one team's practice squad simply to put them onto your practice squad.  If you sign a player off of a practice squad, they must go onto your 53-man roster.

Also, if a player is promoted internally to the practice squad, they must stay there for three weeks, and be compensated at the minimum salary for their status.  If they get let go before those three weeks are up, they still get paid for those three weeks.

Speaking of which, how much does a practice squad player in the NFL get paid?  Well, their minimum salary is $5,200 a week. . .nice freaking work if you can get it. . .although in rare instances some teams will pay more.  They'll also usually get a couple thousand dollars as a signing bonus.

And, to close this out, the actual CBA language for those of you that love you some legal mumbo jumbo.

PRACTICE SQUADS

Section 1. Practice Squads:
   (a) The League may elect in any League Year in accordance with this Article to establish practice squads not to exceed eight (8) players per Club. The League’s election in any one season shall not determine or affect its election in any subsequent season.
   (b) The League may elect to allow some or all Clubs to add to their practice squads one additional player, who shall not count against the limit above, whose citizenship and principal place of residence are outside the United States and its Territories ("International Player"). The League’s election in any one season shall not determine or affect its election in any subsequent season. Such International Players shall be subject to the same terms and conditions of employment that apply to other practice players except that they (1) may not, during the term of their practice player contract, negotiate or sign an NFL Player Contract with any Club; and (2) may not practice with any Club following the last Conference Championship Game unless both Conference Championship teams have such a player. In addition, notwithstanding the provisions of Section 4 below, such International Player shall be eligible to serve on a Practice Squad for three additional seasons after the completion of the player's year(s) as an International Player. As set forth in Article XXXIV, Section 3, the weekly salary for such international players shall not be included in the employing Club's Team Salary and shall be deducted from the calculation of the Salary Cap in the same manner as any Player Benefit.

Section 2. Signing With Other Clubs:
   (a) Any player under contract to a Club as a practice squad player shall be completely free to negotiate and sign a Player Contract with any Club at any time during the League Year, to serve as a player on any Club’s Active or Inactive List, and any Club is completely free to negotiate and sign such a Player Contract with such player, without penalty or restriction, including, but not limited to, Draft Choice Compensation between Clubs or First Refusal Rights of any kind, or any signing period, except that such player shall not be permitted to sign a Player Contract with another Club to serve as a practice squad player while under contract as a practice squad player.
   (b) Notwithstanding Subsection (a) above, a practice squad player may not sign an NFL Player Contract with his Club’s next opponent later than 4:00 p.m., New York time, on the sixth day preceding the game (except in bye weeks, when the prohibition commences on the tenth day preceding the game).

Section 3. Salary:  Minimum salary for a practice squad player shall be $4,700 per week for the 2006-07 League Years, $5,200 per week for the 2008-10 League Years and the 2011 League Year if it is an Uncapped Year, and $5,700 per week for the 2011 League Year if it is a Capped Year and the 2012 League Year, including postseason weeks in which his Club is in the playoffs.

Section 4. Eligibility:
   (a) The practice squad shall consist of the following players, provided that they have not served more than two previous seasons on a Practice Squad: (i) players who do not have an Accrued Season of NFL experience; and (ii) free agent players who were on the Active List for fewer than nine regular season games during their only Accrued Season(s). An otherwise eligible player may be a practice squad player for a third season only if the Club by which he is employed that season has at least 53 players on its Active/Inactive List
during the entire period of his employment.
   (b) A player shall be deemed to have served on a Practice Squad in a season if he has passed the club’s physical and been a member of the club’s Practice Squad for at least three regular season or postseason games during his first two Practice Squad seasons, and for at least one regular season or postseason game during his third Practice Squad season. (A bye week counts as a game provided that the player is not terminated until after the regular season or postseason weekend in question.)

Section 5. Active List:  If a player on the Practice Squad of one club (Club A) signs an NFL Player Contract with another club (Club B), (1) the player shall receive three weeks salary of his NFL Player Contract at the 53- player Active/Inactive List minimum even if he is terminated by Club B prior to earning that amount, and (2) Club B is required to count the player on its 53-player Active/Inactive List for three games (a bye week counts as a game) even if he is terminated or assigned via waivers to another club or is signed as a free agent to another club’s 53-player roster or another club’s Practice Squad prior to that time. If the player is terminated from Club B’s 53-player roster and signed to Club B’s Practice Squad, he shall continue to count on the club’s 53-player Active/Inactive List but shall not count against the eight-player Practice Squad limit until the three-game requirement has been fulfilled. If a player is terminated prior to the completion of the three-game period and is signed to Club B’s Practice Squad or is signed or assigned to another club’s 53-player roster or Practice Squad, any salary (as that term is defined in Article XXIV, Section 1(c)) that he receives from any NFL club applicable to the three-game period shall be an offset against the three weeks salary that he is entitled to receive from Club B.

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