NFL teams are cutting their rosters down to 53 players this week, and one that is complete, organizations will start filling out their practice squads. Teams can begin signing up to 16 players to their practice squad beginning at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, September 6.
Historically, the practice squad has been a group of up to ten players that are primarily developmental options. The squad has included no vested veterans, with players at two seasons or less of accrued service time. The rules have evolved over the years, but it has been intended as a developmental tool rather than a place for long-time veterans.
That is changing this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The NFL and NFL Players Association have negotiated some changes to help teams deal with potential roster implications for the pandemic. Here’s what you need to know to understand the practice squad this year.
How many players on the practice squad?
16 — The practice squad had been 8 players, and then bumped to 10 in 2014. The NFL and NFLPA had increased it to 12 early this offseason, but the pandemic resulted in increasing it to 16 players.
Who is eligible for the practice squad?
There are traditional rules that still apply and then a new rule that expands eligibility.
In order to be eligible for the practice squad, players must meet one of 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 46-man active roster for no more than 8 games;
- Each club will be permitted to sign a maximum of 4 Practice Squad players who have earned no more than 2 accrued seasons of free agency credit;
- A maximum of two free agent players per Club with no limitations as to their number of earned Accrued Seasons;
Covid-19 rule change
Along with increasing the practice squad size to 16 due to the pandemic, the NFL and NFLPA will allow teams to sign up to six players with more than two accrued season.
The 2020 CBA allows for up to two players in a given week to be promoted to the active roster without giving the players a normal player contract. Normally a player must be removed from the 53-man roster to make room for a practice squad promotion. Then, if the promoted player is sent back down to the practice squad, he has to clear waivers. That is not the case with these two players.
Under this new rule, players revert to the practice squad the next business day without going through waivers. A player can be utilized in this way for two total games during the season.
While on a practice squad, a player is paid by that particular team. However, the player has the right to sign with another team’s 53-man roster. The one regular exception to this is that the player may not sign a contract with his team’s next opponent after 4 p.m. ET six days preceding the game (10 days preceding in bye weeks). A player cannot sign a practice squad contract with one team and then leave to sign a practice squad contract with another team, unless the first team has released said player.
The league has created another significant exception to this rule for this year. Each team is allowed to protect up to four of its practice squad players from other teams.
Players on the practice squad with no more than two accrued seasons can earn a minimum of $8,400 per week in 2020. Any practice squad players with more than two accrued seasons will earn $12,000 per week in 2020.
Teams are allowed to pay a player a higher salary than the minimum, and this often happens if another team comes sniffing around a player. All practice squad salaries are counted under the team’s salary cap.