PRACTICE SQUAD: Who’s eligible?
By Brian McFarland
With the final cutdown date (the Saturday after the final Preseason game at 4:00 p.m.) looming for every team around the NFL, over 1,184 players are facing the prospects of being unemployed by this weekend.
However, for 320 of them, that unemployment will be replaced by the tenuous, and often temporary, existence that is an NFL’s Practice Squad.
That 320 players represents an additional 64 players than in the past, as the NFL and NFLPA recently (2014) agreed to add 2 additional spots to what had previously been 8-man squads.
The first step, though, is that the player must be released. Teams must have their active rosters reduced to 53 players by 6:00 p.m. ET on the Saturday prior to the first week of the season. Other teams may claim or sign a released player, in which case that player is added to his new team’s 53-man roster.
If the player is not claimed by Noon ET on Sunday, 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 minimum weekly salary of $7,200.00 in 2017 and only get paid for the weeks they are actually on the Squad. In the past, the Ravens have on occasion paid more than the weekly minimum to certain players. Changes to the Practice Squad rules in 2015 now allow teams to offer bonuses and guarantee weekly salary to players on the Practice Squad. This could lead to more cases of poaching of players from another team’s Practice Squad, as teams can now compete for a player’s services by offering more money or more guaranteed money.
At any time, if a player is released from the Practice Squad, he becomes a Free Agent and can be immediately signed elsewhere.
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 game in any one season, or
For any accrued season that the player may have, the player cannot have been on a team’s 46-man game day active roster for more than eight (8) games during that accrued season
However, under the new rule added in early August of 2014, teams can now have a maximum of 2 players who have “earned no more than two (2) accrued seasons”. Essentially, this new addition will allow teams to now sign two (2) players to the Practice Squad who would have otherwise been ineligible because they had an accrued season of NFL service and been on the active 46-man game day roster for more than eight (8) games during that accrued season. This rule was further amended in 2016 to allow four (4) players with no more than two (2) accrued seasons to be signed to the Practice Squad.
A player can serve two (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.
A player will be deemed to have spent a season on the Practice Squad if he’s spent six (6) games during the regular or post-season on the Practice Squad (up from 3 games under the prior rules). It takes only one 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 from that team’s 53-man roster, he must clear Waivers before he can be added back onto that team’s 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 three weeks of service on the 53-man rosters, even if he is released before the three weeks is up. In addition, if a team releases a former Practice Squad player signed from another team before his three weeks have accrued, the team is not allowed to replace the player on its 53-man roster until the expiration of those three weeks. If the player clears Waivers, he can be added as a 9th or extra Practice Squad player until the expiration of the three weeks.
There is one limitation to a 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 six 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.