Last preseason was a difficult one for NFL front offices and coaching staffs. They had to decide the fate of 27 players without seeing them in live game action.
The good news teams in 2021 is that they will each have at least three preseason contests during which they can evaluate their players. However, teams are once again carrying the traditional 90-man rosters after the league constricted training camp rosters to 80 during the pandemic. The extra sum of players will, naturally, make roster cuts a bit more difficult. After all, those 37 cuts comprise 41.1 percent of an NFL roster.
That said, the NFL is attempting to make it a bit easier for teams, as they are adding a couple of smaller cut-down deadlines ahead of the trim to 53 players on Aug. 31. Additionally, that Aug. 31 cut date is nine days before the season begins, so it will give players plenty of time to land roles with other teams on an active roster or practice squad.
And there will be plenty of opportunities for players to earn practice squad spots. The NFL is keeping its expanded practice squad rules from 2020 in effect, and that will allow more players to land jobs and NFL teams to carry more depth.
All told, NFL teams will have 53 available roster spots and 16 practice squad spots to fill in 2021. Certainly, the adjusted rules will have an impact on roster cuts and roster-building strategy as Week 1 draws nearer and nearer. Below are more details about the deadline for NFL roster cuts and the rules for practice squad construction.
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When are NFL roster cuts in 2021?
53-man roster deadline
- Date: Tuesday, Aug. 31
- Time: 4 p.m. ET
The NFL’s final roster cut deadline will occur at 4 p.m. ET on August 31. At that point, all NFL teams must have no more than 53 players on their active rosters. Currently, teams are allowed to carry up to 90 players.
That said, the NFL has added a couple of extra roster cut deadlines built into the preseason. The league had done away with having multiple sets of roster cuts ahead of the 2017 preseason, but they implemented a cut to 80 during ahead of 2020 training camp — which was largely due to COVID concerns. Evidently, the NFL liked that cut enough to keep it around, albeit in a different form.
This year, the league will have teams cut five players from their roster on two occasions before the final cut to 53. After Week 1 of the preseason, teams will have to trim their rosters down to 85. After Week 2, they’ll cut another five players to bring each team’s total down to 80.
Here’s when those two deadlines will come into effect.
85-man roster deadline
- Date: Tuesday, August 17
- Time: 4 p.m. ET
80-man roster deadline
- Date: Tuesday, August 24
- Time: 4 p.m. ET
Each of the two pre-final cut deadlines will see roughly 160 players released. The final cutdown will purge 864 players from NFL active rosters.
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NFL roster cuts rules
The NFL’s deadline for final roster cuts is Aug. 31, but teams will inevitably make moves ahead of that deadline. In recent years, some teams have released their full list of cuts almost immediately after their third preseason game. Also, some NFL teams may not make their final 27 cuts all at once; they’ll come rolling in over a period of a couple of days.
Below is the NFL’s official language regarding the Aug. 31 roster cuts deadline:
Prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time, clubs must reduce rosters to a maximum of 53 players on the Active/Inactive List. … Simultaneously with the roster reduction to 53 players, clubs that have players in the categories of Active/Physically Unable to Perform or Active/Non-Football Injury or Illness must select one of the following options: place player on Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform or Reserve/Non-Football Injury or Illness, whichever is applicable; terminate or request waivers with the designation of Failed Physical or Non-Football Injury or Illness, whichever is applicable; request waivers; terminate contract; trade contract; or continue to count the player on the Active List.
Players that are on the PUP or NFI lists don’t count toward roster totals in the offseason or during the regular season. They just can’t practice or play while on those lists. If activated from those lists, teams will have to create a roster spot for them, which could mean releasing an extra player.
However, if a player remains on the PUP list, they are ineligible to return to action until after the team’s sixth game. Additionally, players placed on IR before the cut to 53 are ineligible to return during the season.
The players that are placed on waivers during final cuts will be eligible to be claimed by teams until 4 p.m. ET on Sept. 1. After that, teams can start to sign players and fill out their 16-man practice squads. Below is the full schedule for the NFL’s roster cut/construction period.
|Aug. 17||Deadline to cut training camp rosters to 85 players|
|Aug. 24||Deadline to cut training camp rosters to 80 players|
|Aug. 31||Deadline to cut training camp rosters to 53 players|
|Sept. 1||Post-cut waiver claim period ends at 4 p.m. ET|
|Sept. 1||Teams can sign practice squad players after waiver claims are processed|
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NFL practice squad rules
The NFL initially implemented a plan to gradually increase practice squad sizes beginning in the 2020 season. Originally, the league planned to expand to 12 practice squad players in 2020 and 14 in 2022.
However, the COVID pandemic forced them to reconsider, and practice squad sizes were expanded to 16. Of those 16 players, six could be veterans with an unlimited number of accrued pro seasons under their belts. This was to allow more roster flexibility and depth for teams in case of a potential COVID outbreak.
The NFL has opted to keep the 2020 practice squad rules in effect once again. So, once again there will be 16 players allowed on practice squads with the following players being eligible for the units:
- 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)
- 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
Additionally, teams are allowed to promote two players from their practice squad to create a 55-man roster on game days. These call-ups can occur as late as 90 minutes before the game — when the official inactives list is posted. After the game, the player reverts back to the practice squad.
Practice squad players cannot sign a contract with another team’s practice squad. If they sign elsewhere, they must receive a promotion to the 53-man roster of the team that signed them.
Practice squad players are free to sign with another team’s 53-man roster at any time with one exception; teams are allowed to protect up to four players per week on their practice. Protected players cannot sign elsewhere.
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NFL practice squad salaries
The NFL has two scales implemented to help determine practice squad salary. There’s one for players with two or fewer accrued seasons — a group that makes up most of NFL practice squads — and one for NFL veterans that have landed on practice squads.
The first group, which is largely comprised of rookies, are paid a fixed weekly salary. This was negotiated into the NFL’s current CBA and will increase on a yearly basis. This year, they’ll make $9,200 a week after making $8,400 a week in 2020.
Below are the rest of the values for players with two or fewer accrued seasons.
The second group consists of NFL veterans. These players have no limitations regarding their number of earned accrued seasons. That’s why you’ll occasionally see long-term NFL players on these units, like Donte Moncrief and Trevor Siemian in 2020. Teams are allowed to keep up to six of these players on their roster in 2021.
Right now, these players are receiving a fixed weekly salary. However, starting in 2022, their salaries will fall within a price range that they’ll be able to negotiate with teams. That could create more competition in signing veterans to the practice squad.
Here’s a look at those values through 2030, the duration of the NFL’s current CBA.
|Year||Minimum weekly salary||Maximum weekly salary|
There are no guaranteed salaries, bonuses or incentives above the weekly check for practice squad players. If a player is promoted to the active roster on 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. With the NFL moving to an 18-week regular season, that cut could decrease to a 1/18 value.