With the final cutdown date looming for every team around the NFL, over 700 players are facing the prospects of being unemployed by tonight.
However, for 256 of them, that unemployment will be replaced by tenuous, and often temporary, existence that is an NFL’s Practice Squad.
The first step, though, is that the player must be released. Teams must have their active rosters reduced to 53 players by 9:00 p.m. tonight. Other teams may claim a player, in which case that player is added to his new team’s 53-man roster.
If the player is not claimed by Noon on Saturday, he will have cleared Waivers and he is then free to sign with any team – either to their active roster (although if not claimed on Waivers, that’s unlikely) or to that team’s Practice Squad. While there are the occasional instances of “poaching”, whereby one team signs a player that another team has released, most team’s practice squads are largely made up of players that have been with that team throughout training camp.
Players on the Practice Squad earn a weekly salary of $5,700.00 in 2012 and only get paid for the weeks they are actually on the Squad. If a player is released from the Practice Squad, he becomes a Free Agent.
In order to be eligible for the Practice Squad, a player must:
- Not have an accrued season of NFL service, defined as being on the team’s 53-man roster, PUP or IR for 6 games in any one season, or
- Not been on a team’s 45-man game day active roster for more than 8 games during that one accrued season.
- A player can serve 2 years on the Practice Squad and is eligible for a 3rd, if the team carries a full 53-man roster during the time the player is serving on the PS.
During his first 2 Practice Squad seasons, a player will be deemed to have spent a season on the Practice Squad if he’s spent 3 games during the regular or post-season on the Practice Squad. It takes only 1 game spent on the Practice Squad during the player’s third season for it to count as his 3rd Practice Squad season.
A player can be elevated to his team’s 53-man roster at any time, however, if he is later released, he must clear Waivers before he can be added back onto the Practice Squad.
A Practice Squad player can be signed by another team at any time, but the player must be signed to that team’s 53-man roster. A team cannot sign a player from another Practice Squad directly to its own Practice Squad. If a player is signed to another team’s 53-man roster, he is entitled to be paid the applicable minimum salary for a minimum of 3 weeks of service on the 53-man roster, even if he is released before the 3 weeks is up.
In addition, if a team releases a former Practice Squad player signed from another team before his 3 weeks have accrued, the team is not allowed to replace the player on its 53-man roster until the expiration of those 3 weeks. If the player clears Waiver, he can be added as a 9th or extra Practice Squad player until the expiration of the 3 weeks.
There is one limitation to another team’s ability to sign players from another team’s Practice Squad, and that is that a team cannot sign a player from its next opponent, unless it is at least 6 days ahead of that game (10 days if during a Bye week).
If a player signed from another team’s Practice Squad is released from the new team’s 53-man roster, he must again go through Waivers before he can be added to any team’s Practice Squad.