On Wednesday, teams will expand their roster by adding to the practice squad. Each team can add up to 16 players on a practice squad, which is a group of players that aren’t part of the 53-man roster but are allowed to practice with the team, and in special situations can even play on Sundays.
While the practice squad used to be used to develop young players that could be a part of the 53-man roster in future years, the purpose of it has changed over time due to some recent rule changes. In 2020, the practice squad saw a complete rule overhaul, in part to protect teams in case they were to get hit by a COVID-19 outbreak in the locker room. The NFL chose to carry over all of those rules to 2021.
Here are the most important things to know about the 2021 practice squad rules.
How many players are allowed on the practice squad?
16 as of 2020. The previous number used to be 10.
Who is eligible to be signed to the practice squad?
In short, anybody. Doesn’t matter if you’re a rookie or a 10-year veteran. You can be signed to the practice squad.
To be more specific, teams have a certain amount of practice squad spots available to certain types of players. Here’s the breakdown:
- Up to six practice squad spots can be used on players with unlimited experience in the NFL
- The remaining spots are filled with players having less than two accrued seasons
When can teams sign players to their practice squad?
After the waiver claim deadline following the final roster cuts for each team. This year, that’s Wednesday, September 1 at
4 p.m. ET .
CORRECTION: That time is actually Noon E.T.. The NFL’s official website lists 4 p.m. ET, but I’ve confirmed with a team source that time is actually noon.)
Once teams are made aware of which players have and have not been claimed, they can start filling out their 16-man practice squad.
Protected practice squad players
NFL rules permit teams to poach other team’s practice squad players. By doing that, they’d sign another team’s practice squadder to their 53-man roster, and he will earn a minimum of three game checks, even if he is released/waived prior to spending three weeks on the active roster.
However, new rules allow teams to protect four practice squad players per week from poaching. At the beginning of a game week, teams submit the names of up to four players who cannot be poached by other teams. A specific player can be protected an unlimited amount of times during one season.
Promotion to the active squad
At any time, a team can sign a practice squad player to their 53-man roster. However, to do so, they have to sign a new contract and make a spot on the roster for them by removing someone off the 53-man squad. If a team wanted to put them back on the practice squad, they would have to either cut or waive them first and then re-sign them to the squad, as long as they are not claimed by another team.
HOWEVER, a new rule allows teams to promote two players from the practice squad per week without the need to create a roster spot—in essence, creating a temporary 55-man roster. Those players are eligible to play in that week’s game, and they revert back to the practice squad at the end of the week without having to pass through waivers.
There is one catch. You can only use this temporary promotion twice on an individual player per season. After that, you’ll have to sign him to the 53-man roster to play them.
Practice squad salaries
Practice squad players have week-to-week contracts, as opposed to season-long ones. The base salary for a practice squad player is $9,200 per week ($165,600 if they are on the practice squad all 18 weeks of the season). Veteran players with more than two years of accrued seasons will get a slight bump in pay and make $14,000 per week ($252,000 for a full season).
If a practice squad player is elevated to the active roster on a given week, they will also receive a league minimum game check that will vary in price depending on the player's NFL experience. For a player with zero accrued seasons, they would receive just over $36,000 per game check. Players with one year of experience see a bump to slightly over $43,000, while players with two years are eligible for $47,000 game checks. The number increases with each year of experience and tops out at just under $60,000 per game.
Practice squad player's salaries do count against the team’s salary cap.