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PRACTICE SQUAD: Who’s eligible?
By Brian McFarland
With the final cutdown date (the Tuesday 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 512 of them (16 per team), that unemployment will be replaced by the 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 4:00 p.m. ET on the Tuesday (August 30th in 2022) after the final preseason game 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 the next day (Wednesday, August 31st in 2022), 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 a team’s Practice Squad. Teams can start assembling their Practice Squads as of 1:00 on Wednesday. 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.
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 six (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 fewer than nine (9) games during that accrued season, or
An “Exemption” player – a player with no more than two (2) accrued seasons (subject to the below limitation), or
A “Veteran” player – a player with no limitation on the number of accrued seasons (subject to the below limitation).
For 2022, by virtue of a side-letter agreement by the NFL and NFLPA, teams are limited to a combination of ten (10) “Exemption” and “Veteran” players, but no more than six (6) of the ten (10) can be “Veteran” players.
At any time, if a player is released from the Practice Squad, he becomes a Free Agent and can be immediately signed elsewhere.
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 17th 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.
Thanks to the new CBA in 2020, Practice Squad salaries are now largely set. For 2022, players in categories 1, 2 and 3 above earn a minimum weekly salary of $11,500.00. For “Veteran” players in category 4 above, 2022 is the first time that there is a minimum ($15,400) and maximum ($19,900) amount between which the player and team can negotiate a weekly salary.
One other adjustments to the Practice Squad for 2022 is that players can now be elevated to the 53-man roster for 3 games (up for 2 in the past) this year.