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Everything you need to know about NFL practice squads

NFL teams will soon be compiling their practice squads. But when exactly, and what is a practice squad, and how much do they get paid?

Photo by Lester A. Wiltfong Jr. of Serena Vitellaro Photography

The Chicago Bears will wrap up their 2018 preseason tonight against the Buffalo Bills. By now they have a good idea of how their 53-man roster will shape up. There are likely a few players actually playing for a roster spot, but the real drama will come as the Bears look to who belongs on their 10-man practice squad.

Before I get into the “what” and “how” of the practice squad, here is the time line for this weekend.

  • August 30 - Bears vs Bills at 7:00 pm CT.
  • September 1 - All teams must have their 53-man rosters set by 3:00 pm CT.
  • September 2 - At 11:00 am CT, the claiming period for players that were put on waivers will expire.
  • September 2 - At approximately 12:00 pm CT, all teams can begin announcing their 10 man practice squad.

We’ll likely start seeing some player movement on Friday, August 31, if not tonight.

So what happens when a player is placed on waivers? Our own Ken Mitchell explained the waiver wire process last year in this article. The quick explanation is that players with less than four accrued seasons are released and must pass through waivers, but players with four or more accrued seasons — vested veterans — are released and are immediately free to sign with any team.

If a player is claimed on waivers he must be added to his new teams 53-man roster. If a player makes it through waivers, he’s then free to sign with any team he chooses. He could still end up on a 53-man roster, but at this point in the process the player would be free to sign with a team’s practice squad.

What is the practice squad?

These players practice with the team, but they never get to play on Sundays. They are the scout team guys and occasionally get some run with the real team when the regulars are injured. In 2018, they earn a minimum salary of $7,600 per week. Job security is obviously an issue, but that’s decent money.

How big is the practice squad?

An NFL practice squad consists of a maximum of ten players except for the AFC North teams which are participating in the International Player Development Program. These teams may sign one additional international player to a practice squad contract.

When can teams fill their practice squad?

From the NFL:

“No club, including the player’s prior club, will be permitted to sign a player to a Practice Player Contract until all clubs have received simultaneous notification via the above Personnel Notice that such player’s prior NFL player contract has been terminated via the waiver system.”

That’s why I wrote “approximately” up there on September 2. Noon is the target, but the Personnel Notices all need to go through.

Who is eligible for the practice squad?

Players with less than two years of accrued service in the NFL are eligible for the practice squad. Teams may have up to four players on their practice squad that have up to three years of accrued service.

Can teams steal the Bears’ practice squad players?

Practice squad players are technically free agents, but if a team “poaches” your player, that player must remain on their active roster for three weeks. If he’s cut before that, he reverts back to his original team. If a team values a guy on their practice squad, they can promote him and waive someone off their 53-man roster. The Bears did this with DeAndre Houston-Carson last year.

The nitty gritty specifics can be found in the NFL’s CBA. But be warned, it’s a bunch of legal jargon.