Countdown To Cutdown - NFL Practice Squad Explained

ENGLEWOOD CO - AUGUST 18: Members of the Denver Broncos participate in warm up drills during training camp practice at Dove Valley on August 18 2010 in Englewood Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

NFL roster cuts are coming soon for the 2010 season. The Denver Broncos, like every other NFL team, will need to reduce their roster from 80 players to 75 players on August 31st and then to 53 players on September 4th. 

After that second round of roster cuts, the Broncos will be eligible to sign 8 players to the team's practice squad who didn't make the 53-man roster, once those players have cleared the waiver wire.(See Waiver Wire post). Those players do not count towards the 53-man roster and don't get to play in any games - only practice. 

Each year about this time, we get a lot of questions from people wondering what the ins and outs of the NFL practice squad are - salary, eligibility, etc. - so I wanted to clear it up.

I've gone ahead and put this information together for when the roster cuts start happening and the Broncos' scout team starts to take shape over the next couple of weeks. Hopefully, this way we'll avoid the "He's a great practice squad candidate" arguments about players who aren't even eligible to make the developmental scout team. Consider this an NFL Practice Squad Q&A if you will. 

In this post, I'll explain:

  • What NFL players are eligible for the practice squad;
  • NFL practice squad minimum salaries; and,
  • NFL practice squad roster rules.

Let's start with a brief description:

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).

NFL Practice Squad Eligibility

Once September 4th passes, NFL teams will have the the option of placing 8 players on a practice only team. These players do not count towards the 53-man roster and are generally made up of college free agents and other borderline NFL players.

Since 2004, the NFL has had an international player practice squad spot for rotating teams. It allowed one non-US or non-Canadian born player to take up a ninth practice squad spot. They didn't do it last year and we're unsure if it's happening again this year.

To makes things easier to explain, players who are eligible for the practice squad:

  • 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.
This is where it gets a bit confusing. A player with an accrued NFL season (6 or more games) isn't eligible for the practice squad but a player who played in fewer than 9 games is still eligible? Yeah, it's a bit confusing. 

NFL Practice Squad Minimum Salary

This is pretty straightforward. NFL practice squad players are paid $5,200 a week minimum but teams may choose to pay them more if they'd like. This doesn't usually happen. The players will also get small signing bonuses, usually in the area of a couple thousand bucks. 

NFL Practice Squad Rules

There are some important things to know about practice squad players during the NFL regular season so I'm just going to list them:

  • Practice squad players are always free agents, meaning any NFL team can sign them away from another team. The catch with this? A team can't sign a player one week before they play that team and the team that signs a practice squad player must count that player against their 53-man active roster for at least three weeks, bye weeks included. This is even if the player is released after one week - they still count as a spot on the roster. 
  • Players that are promoted internally from the practice squad to the active roster must remain there for three weeks and get paid the minimum salary for their status (rookie or veteran). If they are let go for some reason before the three weeks are up, they are still paid for those three full weeks. 

As we head towards the 31st, then September 4th, we'll look at who we think the Broncos will keep, and who will be looking for work this Labor Day. 

For those that prefer the legal jargon straight from the CBA:

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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