Practice Squads

In addition to the 53-man rosters each NFL team will carry into the regular season following this month’s cutdown dates, each club will have a practice squad made up of 10 more players. In past seasons, practice squads have been limited to eight players, but the league announced earlier this week that the squads would be expanded to 10 for 2014 and 2015.

Those practice squads will be created in a little over a week. On Sunday, August 31, the claiming period for players waived during final roster cutdowns will end at 11:00am central time, and at that point, teams are free to start signing players to their practice squads.

While practice squad players aren’t eligible to play in regular season games, they practice with their team’s active players during the week, and receive a weekly salary. For the 2014 season, the minimum weekly salary for practice squad players is $6,300, though teams are permitted to offer more than that in an attempt to entice players to sign to their squad rather than join another club.

Practice squad players are under contract, but the fact that they’re not on an active roster means they’re free to sign with another NFL team if the opportunity arises. That new team must add the player to its 53-man active roster, however, and the player will then receive at least three weeks of active-roster salary, even if he’s waived before spending three weeks with the team. If a team signs a player off another club’s practice squad to its active roster and cuts him within three weeks, the team is not allowed to replace that player on its active roster until the three-week period is up. However, if the player clears waivers, he can be added to the team’s practice squad as an extra man until the three-week period expires.

A team cannot sign a player to its practice squad from another team’s practice squad — to go from one practice squad to another, the player must first be cut and clear waivers. Additionally, a team can’t sign a player off another club’s practice squad if the two teams are playing each other next, unless the move occurs at least six days before the game (or 10 days before, if the old club is currently on a bye).

Teams are permitted to elevate practice squad players to their active rosters, but the club must be willing to pay the player at least three weeks’ worth of the minimum salary, and the player would have to clear waivers before being placed back on the practice squad.

There are a number of rules related to eligibility for practice squad players. The squads are generally designed as developmental tools for a club to keep young players around to learn its system, so a team wouldn’t be able to sign a veteran free agent like Asante Samuel to its practice squad. Here are the guidelines for determining whether a player is eligible to be signed to a practice squad:

  • A player without an accrued season of NFL experience is eligible for practice squads. An accrued season is defined as having spent at least six games on a team’s active roster, PUP list, or injured reserve list.
  • A player with one accrued season can still be eligible for practice squads if he was on his team’s active 46-man roster for fewer than nine games.
  • A player can serve up to two years on a practice squad, and is eligible for a third only if his team is carrying a full 53-man roster at all times. A player is considered to have spent a full year on a practice squad if he was on the squad for at least three games.

While the above bullets represent the usual criteria for practice squad eligibility, the changes the NFL announced this week also included some alterations to eligibility that will apply to the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Those changes are as follows:

  • A player is now considered to have spent a full year on a practice squad if he was on the squad for at least six games, rather than three.
  • Each team is allowed to sign a maximum of two players who have up to two accrued seasons of NFL experience. The usual rules for accrued seasons will apply to the other eight players on the practice squad.

Assuming each of the NFL’s 32 teams carry full practice squads into the regular season, a total of 320 players will be signed to these squads following roster cutdowns next weekend. In most cases, a team’s practice squad will simply be made up of players who have spent training camp and preseason with that club and didn’t make the 53-man roster. However, there may be some instances of teams poaching other clubs’ players. The expanded rosters and altered eligibility guidelines for this season should make things a little interesting as we follow how NFL clubs decide to fill up their practice squads for 2014.

Note: This is a PFR Glossary entry. Our glossary posts will explain specific rules relating to free agency, trades, or other aspects of the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. Information from Russell Street Report and was used in the creation of this post.

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