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What is a practice squad in the NFL? Who can be on it and when can they sign?

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NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Miami Dolphins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL’s roster cut deadline is looming, coming on Saturday at 4pm Eastern. As teams look to trim from the 90-man limit used during the offseason and preseason down to the 53-man roster limit for during the regular season, there is still a hope for players who are released and not claimed or signed by another club - the practice squad. This additional group of players get to workout with the team and continue to develop, but they are not members of the game-day team.

What is exactly is the practice squad, who can be on it, why would someone want to be on a practice squad, and can the player join another team during the season? All your practice squad questions are answered here.

What is the practice squad?

Each team is allowed one group of players who do now count against the 53-man roster. The practice squad is used, typically, to develop a younger player, while also giving the team a group of players who are used to replicate the offense or defense of the up-coming opponent.

How big is the practice squad?

Four years ago, the NFL and the NFL Players Association agreed to expand the practice squad to ten players.

Eligibiilty

The standard eligibility for a player to be added to the practice squad is he is a free agent and has not accrued two years of NFL service. A player can only be on a practice squad for three seasons total in his career (six weeks on a practice squad in a season counts as a season for these purposes).

The league does allow for exceptions to the less than two-year rule, which was expanded with the 10-player rule. Teams may keep up to four players on their practice squad who have accrued two seasons of NFL experience, which allows a fringe player the chance to stay with the team, even if he already has been in the league, while also allowing the teams to keep more veteran players.

Accrued seasons are earned by being on the active (53-man) roster for a team for six games in a single regular season.

Salary

Practice squad players receive a weekly salary, though there are no guarantees so they can be cut at any time. The practice squad minimum salary is $7,600 a week. Teams can choose to pay a practice squad player more, which teams will do when they like a player and are trying to keep him with the squad. Otherwise, he could be poached by another team.

Practice squad salaries do count against a team’s salary cap.

What is poaching?

Practice squad players want to be 53-man roster, NFL players. The NFL allows a practice squad player to be signed by another team, if they are going to put him on their 53-man roster. When this happens, the player is giving a guaranteed three-week salary and he is added to the 53-man roster for three weeks - even if the team decides to release him before those three weeks are up. There are other rules as well, including limiting when a team can sign a practice squad player from their next opponent (six days prior to the game, or ten days if he is on a bye week), but those are not major ones you need to understand the practice squad.

What if a team promotes their own practice squad player?

A team can choose to sign their own practice squad player to the 53-man roster as well. Often, a team will use the practice squad to keep depth in case of injuries, so they will call up players if an injury occurs. Teams will also call a player up to the 53-man roster if they feel another team is trying to poach a player the original teams wants to keep.

When can teams start signing practice squad players?

Typically, any player who has cleared waivers and fits the eligibility criteria, can sign with a practice squad. A player who is released from a practice squad are also free to sign with another practice squad. When it comes to the final round of roster cuts - which happened on Saturday - the league shotgun starts the practice squad signing an hour after the waiver period ends. That means teams can start signing players to the practice squad as of 1pm ET Sunday, September 2.