More than 800 players were cut by NFL teams this weekend. For more than 500 of them, that won’t mean the end of their NFL dreams.
In addition to the 53 man roster, in 2020 every NFL team is permitted to maintain a practice squad of up to 16 players. Practice squads are ordinarily limited to 10 players, but the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the NFL to increase the practice squad limits to 16 for the 2020 season.
Practice squad players practice with the team every week but are ineligible, as long as they remain on the practice squad, to play in NFL games.
Let’s take a closer look at how the practice squad works.
SIGNING PRACTICE SQUAD PLAYERS
Final roster cuts from the offseason 80 man rosters to the in-season 53 man rosters took place this weekend. At 4:00 p.m. EDT yesterday, every NFL team was required to reduce their roster to 53 players. Players cut with four or more years of NFL experience became unrestricted free agents and are immediately free to sign with any other NFL team. Players with less than four years of NFL experience were placed on waivers, and their contracts were subject to being claimed by any other NFL team during the waiver period starting 4:00 p.m. EDT Saturday and ending 12:00 p.m. EDT today, Sunday, September 6. Successful waiver claims are processed in order of the waiver priority of any claiming teams, which priority is the same order as the 2020 NFL draft order prior to any trades.
NFL teams can begin signing players to their practice squads today, starting at 1:00 p.m. EDT. As soon as roster cuts are made, teams begin negotiating with the agents of the players they want on their practice squad, but nothing is final before Sunday at 1:00 p.m., since any player a team wants might be subject to being claimed by another team and signed to their 53 man roster.
Not all players are eligible for the practice squad. Up to four players per practice squad may have up to two years of NFL experience each. In addition, for 2020 only, up to six players per practice squad may have unlimited NFL experience. For the six remaining slots on the practice squad, only players who have been on an active roster for fewer than nine games in any season of their careers are eligible for the practice squad.
PRACTICE SQUAD SALARIES
Practice squad players earn a salary of $8,400 for every week they are on the practice squad, or $134,400 for a full 16 game season. In addition, the practice squad players filling the six slots reserved for players with unlimited experience in 2020 earn $12,000 per week, or $192,000 for a full 16 game season. As a result, the entire practice squad will cost an NFL team up to approximately $2.5 million for the entire 2020 season, almost double what the practice squad cost in 2019, all of which counts against the salary cap.
A SPECIAL KIND OF RESTRICTED FREE AGENT
A practice squad player is in effect a special category of restricted free agent. For 2020 only, NFL teams may protect up to four practice squad players per week from signing with other teams. Any practice squad player not so protected is free at any time to sign with any other NFL team. However, if any NFL team signs any player from another team’s practice squad, the signing team must add the practice squad player to their 53 man roster and pay him at least the NFL minimum salary for three weeks. Even if said player is released prior to the expiration of that three week period, he still must be paid and he counts against the signing team’s 53 man roster. In addition, practice squad players can’t be signed by another team any less than five days before the game, or nine days during a bye week, in the period leading up to a game against said other team. This is to prevent teams using practice squad players for the sole purpose of gathering information on their opponents.
EXTRA FLEXIBILITY FOR 2020
For 2020 only, teams can designate up to two practice squad players active on game day, without needing to promote those two players from the practice squad to the 53 man roster in order for them to suit up for the game. The benefit here is that, because such players were never promoted to the 53 man roster, unlike in previous years they don’t have to be cut and pass through waivers or become free agents in order to return to the practice squad. However, a team can’t do this with the same player two weeks in a row, and they can only have a player play like this twice total during a season.