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The Practice Squad Explained

Who is eligible for an NFL Practice Squad? Check out an in-depth look at these unheralded NFL players.

Jonathan Daniel

There are some rules pertaining to Practice Squad eligibility that I never knew until reading some of the threads here on WCG.  Even with some of these correct clarifications it seems like there are enough confused people to warrant an explanation.  I just hope I don't get to long winded...

Much of my info will be pulled from the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, Article XXXIV.  If you like these types of documents check it out.  You may be able to make heads or tails of it better than I did.

I'll hit the basics first.

An NFL practice squad consists of a maximum of eight players, and those eight players are actually free to negotiate with any other team in the NFL.  The only catch is if a team signs a player off your practice squad that player must be placed on their active roster, they can not be signed off 1 practice squad only to go on another. If a team wants to keep their practice squad player from signing elsewhere they must promote them to their 53 man roster.  If you do lose or promote one of your eight practice squad players you may sign another, just don't over eight. (You can add a 9th if said player is from outside the United States)

The NFL is very strict with teams not going over the max of eight players.  In 2004 the Redskins were caught making a change in their practice squad and for a brief moment they had 9 under contract, this led to them getting slapped with a $45,000 fine.

One important restriction on signing a player from some other teams practice squad is the following:

...  a practice squad player may not sign an NFL Player Contract with his Club's next opponent later than 4:00 p.m. , New York time, on the sixth day preceding the game (except in bye weeks, when the prohibition commences on the tenth day preceding the game).

This is to prevent teams from signing a guy for the sole intent of picking their brain.  If this rule weren't in place some renegade maverick owner like, let's say...  Jerry Jones of the Cowboys...  would keep a roster spot open for a revolving door of opposing players.

In theory a team could sign a player away from an upcoming opponent 7 days prior to extract some info, but there is a rule in place to try and prevent teams from doing this.  If a team signs a practice squad player that team;

...  is required to count the player on its 53-player Active/Inactive List for three games (a bye week counts as a game) even if he is terminated or assigned via waivers to another club or is signed as a free agent to another club's 53-player roster or another club's Practice Squad prior to that time.

I guess if a team were really desperate for some inside scouting they could bite the bullet and sign a guy and deal with him counting towards their 53 man roster for a few weeks, but with football being so specialized these days you'd be hard pressed to find a team that would do this.

This year practice squad players will make a minimum of $5,200 per week.  Not bad, but far from what the real rostered players bring home.  Add the fact that their pay isn't guaranteed, they get no benefits and no pension, and you see how their lifestyle could be one bad day, make that one bad play, away from the unemployment line.  On a positive spin, they could also be one play away from getting promoted to the active roster.  Their game-days are spent sometimes at home and sometimes, if they play for a team with good ownership, in a luxury box taking in the action.  While an NFL teams practice week will vary slightly from team to team, most practice squad players spend their week doing the exact same thing their active team-mates do.  Monday they sit in their positional team meetings breaking down film from the previous game.  Tuesdays they look at film for the upcoming weeks opponent and start getting the game-plan.  Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, they do their best to play their role on the scout team, getting their team ready to play.

What type of elegibility requirements are there for the practice squad?

Section 4. Eligibility: (a) The practice squad shall consist of the following players, provided that they have not served more than two previous seasons on a Practice Squad: (i) players who do not have an Accrued Season of NFL experience; and (ii) free agent players who were on the Active List for fewer than nine regular season games during their only Accrued Season(s). An otherwise eligible player may be a practice squad player for a third season only if the Club by which he is employed that season has at least 53 players on its Active/Inactive List during the entire period of his employment. (b) A player shall be deemed to have served on a Practice Squad in a season if he has passed the club's physical and been a member of the club's Practice Squad for at least three regular season or postseason games during his first two Practice Squad seasons, and for at least one regular season or postseason game during his third Practice Squad season. (A bye week counts as a game provided that the player is not terminated until after the regular season or postseason weekend in question.)

Got it?  Simple right? I'll try and put some of "Section 4:" in English;

Two years on a practice squad means that team can't have you serve a 3rd year, unless... the team never has their active roster go below 53 players during the two years you serve on the practice squad, then you can get a 3rd year.  That's why Brandon Rideau is ineligible, he's already had 2 years with the Bears practice squad.

If your player has spent an accrued year on your active roster he can't go on your practice squad.  Which is why Craig Steltz is ineligible for the practice squad.

Free Agent players that play more than nine regular season games are ineligible for the practrice squad.  Which is why Brett Basanez is eligible for the practice squad.

I like using examples for some of this stuff so here goes;

1)  Let's say the Kansas City Chiefs really had a need for a fullback and their scouts had their eye on Chicago rookie Will Ta'ufo'ou, who is on the Bears practice squad.  The Chiefs are free to negotiate with him, and the Bears would lose him unless they decide to promote him to their active roster.  If the Bears wanted to promote him, they would then have to cut a player to make room for Ta'ufo'ou.  The Bears then could negotiate with the Chiefs and work out a trade for his services.

2)  Let's say Jay Cutler stubs his big toe (yes I'm keeping the hypothetical injury minor as not to jinx anything) and has to miss one week of action.  The Bears could promote Basanez to be the back-up to Caleb Hanie for a week, then try and put him back on the practice squad.  Keeping Basanez on the practice squad is really a smart move.  His value to the league as a 3rd QB is limited, so the Bears should be able to keep him there all season.  Of course if a team or two has some bad luck at the QB position the Bears could see Basanez signed away, but my guess is the Bears would promote him and cut someone else.

3)  Say for example the Packers lost a couple DB's in a freak cheese curd avalanche, and really had their sights set on Bears rookie Woodny Tureene.  Since the Bears play Green Bay this week they would have to wait until after this weeks game before offering Tureene a deal.