All 32 NFL teams had until 4pm ET Saturday to reduce their roster six fro the previous 75-man limit down to the regular season size of 53 players. Over 700 players have suddenly found themselves out of a job, though, for some, that does not mean their NFL dreams are over. Some of the players will be claimed off waivers by another team, joining that squad's 53-man roster.
Players who clear waivers become unrestricted free agents, able to sign with any team - or become a part of a team's practice squad. Being on the practice squad isn't the same as being on the active roster, but it's the next best thing.
Teams may begin signing practice squad players at 12pm ET Sunday.
Here are a few rules and details about NFL practice squads.
Changes to practice squad for 2014
The first thing to know about practice squads is the fact that they changed this summer:
- Size of the squad from eight players to ten
- Players must be on a practice squad for six games for the year to count as one of the three permissible seasons on a practice squad. Previously, it had been three games.
- Each team can sign a maximum of two players with no more than two accrued seasons. Previously, if a player had accrued an NFL season by being on the 53-roster for more than six games, he was ineligible for the practice squad, unless in that one season, he was on the active game day roster for fewer than nine games.
Practice squad basics
- Practice squad players practice with the team. They are not eligible to play in games unless the team promotes them to the 53-man roster.
- Practice squad players are free to sign with other NFL teams, assuming they are signed to the 53-man active roster ("poaching"). A practice squad player cannot be signed to another practice squad. (The Miami Dolphins signed safety Michael Thomas off of the San Francisco 49ers practice squad last year.)
- A practice squad player can not sign with their team's upcoming opponent, unless they do so six days before the upcoming game or 10 days if their team is currently on a bye week.
- If a practice squad player is signed to the active roster, they will receive a minimum of three paychecks, even if they are released before spending three weeks with the team. They will also count against the 53-man roster limit during those three weeks, even if they have been released.
- In order to be signed to a practice squad after being released from a team's 53-man roster, a player must first clear through waivers. (The Dolphins claimed tight end Kyle Miller, who was released by the team Saturday, when the Indianapolis Colts promoted Miller to their 53-man roster for one game, then attempted to waive him and re-sign him to the practice squad.)
- Practice squad players are paid per week and can be released at any point during the season.
Practice squads are considered to be for developmental purposes. Therefore, veterans are not eligible to be signed to the practice squad. In fact, players with more than one year of accrued NFL service are not eligible. Here is a closer look at the eligibility requirements.
- A player is eligible if he does not have an accrued season of NFL experience. Players gain an accrued season by being on the active roster for at least six games.
- If a player has one accrued season, they can still be practice squad eligible if they were on the 46-man active gameday roster for less than nine regular season games.
- Under the new 2014 NFL rules, teams may sign no more than two players up to two accrued seasons.
- A player is deemed to have served a season on the practice squad if he remains on the practice squad for at least six weeks. Players are eligible to be on the practice squad for two seasons.
- Players can be eligible for a third practice squad season if their team maintains no less than 53 players on the active/inactive list at all times.
Practice squad players are paid less than the league minimum for a player on the 53-man roster, but they are not struggling. For 2014, the practice squad salary minimum is $6,300 per week. Teams may pay more than the minimum, and they will typically try to keep players who may sign with another team's 53-man roster by paying them more than the minimum. (The 49ers had attempted to keep Thomas, a player they really liked, by paying him more than the minimum. Miami still was able to sign him.)
The 53-man roster league minimum for a player with no accrued seasons in 2014 is $420,000 for the year, while a player on the practice squad for the entire year would make $107,100. Teams have offered up to the 53-man roster minimum salary for players on their practice squad.
Practice squad contracts do count against the salary cap.