It’s that time of the year again. Teams across the NFL have been working hard to trim their roster from 90 to 53 over the course of a couple of weeks, and that means roughly 1,184 players will be looking for work.
As disappointing as it is to be cut, it’s often not the end of the line. Each NFL team carries with it a practice squad of players that aren’t on the active roster but still train, prepare and, yes, practice with the 53-man roster. These units provide key depth for teams and allow young players to hone their crafts working with NFL teams.
The rules surrounding the practice squad used to be complex, but in recent seasons, the NFL has relaxed them a bit to create more opportunities for a wider variety of players. The primary goal of these units is still to develop young talent, but the league has made room for veterans under its relatively new system.
What are the practice squad rules for 2021? And who is eligible to be on one? Here’s everything you need to know about practice squads as NFL teams get ready to form them once again.
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How many players can be on an NFL practice squad?
For the second consecutive year, NFL teams will be allowed to carry 16 players on their practice squads in 2021. Previously, practice squad sizes had been limited to just 10 players. Initially, the league planned a practice squad expansion to 12 players in 2020 (with a second expansion to 14 coming in 2022), but they increased the allotment because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 16-player practice squad provided teams with roster flexibility and an opportunity to keep more players familiar with the system. That proved crucial during the COVID-impacted campaign, and as such, the league kept practice squad sizes at 16 for 2021.
Who is eligible for an NFL practice squad?
There are a few practice-squad rules related to service time.
Players on NFL practice squads usually fall into the following categories. They are:
- Players who do not have an accrued season of NFL experience (rookies)
- Players who were on the active list for fewer than nine regular-season games during their only accrued season(s)
NFL teams have no limit on the amount of these players that can be on the practice squad. However, teams are also allowed to keep a handful of slightly more experienced players around. These rules were added recently to allow teams to keep some veteran talent and depth around outside of the active roster.
There are, however, limited on those players, which are as follows:
- Up to four players per team who have earned no more than two accrued seasons (no game limitations)
- Up to six players per team with no limitations as to their number of earned accrued seasons
That’s why some recognizable players, like Josh McCown and Theo Riddick, have spent time on practice squads in recent seasons. Teams now have the flexibility needed to keep them around without using active roster spots.
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Can practice squad players play in games?
Only two practice squad players will be eligible to play in NFL games on a weekly basis. NFL teams are allowed to promote two players to the active roster for game days to expand the gameday roster to 55. This can occur any time before the official actives/inactives list is released 90 minutes before the game.
However, the other 14 players will not be on the active roster and, as a result, will not be able to play. And NFL teams aren’t obligated to promote players from the practice squad either, so they can opt to keep their gameday rosters at 53. Only 48 players are active for NFL games.
Can practice squad players sign with other teams?
Practice squad players are eligible to sign with other NFL teams but only if they are signed to another team’s 53-man roster. There are no practice squad to practice squad transactions.
NFL teams can also sign their own practice squad players to their 53-man roster. They just have to open up a roster spot to do so.
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How much are NFL practice squad players paid?
There are two NFL practice squad salary scales. The first group is comprised of rookies and players with two or fewer accrued seasons. The second is for the NFL veterans with no limit to the accrued seasons under their belts.
The first group is set to be paid $9,200 a week in 2020. This is up from $8,400 a week in 2020 and will continue to rise on a yearly basis through the duration of the NFL and NFLPA’s CBA deal in 2030.
Below are the weekly salaries of players with two or fewer accrued seasons through 2030.
The second group is paid more than the first group, as these players often have a lot of NFL experience under their belts. Right now, each player is receiving a fixed weekly salary, but beginning in 2022, their salaries will be within a negotiable price range.
Here’s a look at those contract values through 2030.
|Year||Minimum weekly salary||Maximum weekly salary|
Practice squad contracts do not include guaranteed salaries, bonuses or incentives. They are entirely about the weekly check.
That said, if a player is promoted to the active roster for game day, they will receive a prorated cut of the minimum annual salary for a player with his number of accrued seasons. In 2020, that was 1/17 of the minimum. It seems likely to change to 1/18 of the minimum in 2021 due to the NFL’s change to a 17-game, 18-week schedule.