With the preseason now underway, it's only a matter of weeks until the first round of roster cuts, at which time teams will be forced to trim down to 75 players. Soon after, the final round of roster cuts will be made and teams will part ways with players until they have 53 left on their active roster. Along with the final round of roster cuts, team will establish their practice squad.
Over the years as I have made roster projections, one of the things I have ignored is the practice squad, mainly because I never bothered to learn the rules associated with it. Although players on the practice squad don't receive much notoriety because they aren't eligible to play in games, it is a valuable tool for teams to build depth for when injuries pop up and to continue the development of players that aren't quite ready for the 53-man roster. There are many examples of players going from being a member of the practice squad to a starter, and you don't have to look any further than the Lions' own Zack Follett, so I figured it's worth the time to look at what the practice squad is all about.
Teams will establish their practice squad in the days that follow the final round of cuts, which is set to take place on Sept. 4 this year. Part of establishing the practice squad is looking at which players from your own team should be added to it, but it's also necessary to look around the league at other players that have been let go, as the league-wide free agent pool may include a guy or two worth adding to the practice squad if he doesn't receive any offers to join a 53-man roster.
Typically practice squads are made up of mostly rookies, which is by design based on what makes players eligible for it:
- Can't have already been on a practice squad for two or more years, although a third year on the practice squad is possible if a player's team has had at least 53 players on the roster during his entire period of employment (players are deemed to have spent a season on the practice squad if they are on it for three of more regular season or postseason games during their first two years and at least one during their third year)
- Do not have an accrued season of NFL experience (six or more games on a team's 53-man roster, injured reserve or PUP list), unless they were on the active list (i.e. were dressed to play) for fewer than nine regular season games during their only accrued season(s)
As for general rules for the practice squad, they are below.
- Teams can have a practice squad consisting of a maximum of eight players (a ninth player can be added if he lives outside of the United States and is not a U.S. citizen)
- Practice squad players make $5,200 per week ($88,400 for a 17-week season) and can only participate in practice (hence the name practice squad)
- Players on the practice squad are free to negotiate with other teams and can be signed to another team's 53-man roster (just like Lydon Murtha was signed by the Dolphins from Detroit's practice squad last year) without compensation to the original team
- If a team signs a player from the practice squad of its next opponent, the move must be made at least six days before the game; players signed from a practice squad also must count against the 53-man roster for three weeks (these rules are in place to prevent teams from signing practice-squad players for a week just to get information on their next opponent; it's still possible, but these rules discourage the practice)
Taking all of these rules into account, the following players on the Lions' roster are for sure eligible for the practice squad as long as they clear waivers (obviously some of them will be on the active roster, so the practice squad will not be a consideration):
RB Jahvid Best
FB Matt Clapp
WR Mike Moore
WR Contrevious Parks
WR Tim Toone
TE Dan Gronkowski
TE Richard Dickson
OT Jason Fox
OG Trevor Canfield
OG Roy Schuening
C Dan Gerberry
DE Chima Ihekwoaba (perhaps he would allow the Lions to have nine players on the practice squad since he's from Canada)
DE Willie Young
DT Ndamukong Suh
LB Caleb Campbell
CB Aaron Berry
CB Amari Spievey
DB Jonathan Hefney
DB Paul Pratt
S Randy Phillips
K Aaron Pettrey
Also, FB Jake Nordin, WR Eric Fowler and OT Corey Hilliard may be eligible, but I'm not positive because it's unclear how much time they've spent on the practice squad in the past.