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NFL Practice squad rules and eligibility

The NFL's practice squad rules are fairly complicated. Who is eligible, how much do players get paid, and why do these things even exist? We've got the answers for you here.

David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL will start filling out practice squads today, starting at noon. So it's useful to refresh ourselves on all of the practice squad rules, regulations, eligibility and the whole point of a practice squad.

Practice squad basic

  • Each NFL team can have up to ten players on their practice squad. This was changed this year from an eight-man practice squad in previous seasons.
  • Practice squad players practice with the team, but can't play in games. These players are mostly young, developmental players who have a chance to turn into quality NFL players down the road.
  • Practice squad players can be called up to the regular roster at any point, and can sign with any other team's 53-man roster, too.
  • With one exception: a practice squad player can't sign with a team's next opponent within six days of the game, or ten days if his team is on a bye week. The don't-let-Belichick-spy-on-you rule.
  • Practice squad players can't sign with another practice squad. If another team wants a player, they'll have to sign him to their 53-man roster, or they'll have to wait and hope the player's team releases him from their practice squad.
  • If a team promotes or signs a practice squad player to the regular season roster, he will take up a roster spot for at least three weeks, even if the team cuts him. He'll also be paid a minimum of three weeks' salary, even if cut.

Eligibility

Practice squads are supposedly to develop players, though teams tend to just stack them with random guys they need to run practices, too. The consequence is that veterans are not eligible to be signed to the practice squad. The rules regarding practice squad eligibility were changed a bit this year, to accommodate slightly older players on the squad.

  • Players with one or more accrued seasons are not eligible for a practice squad, with some exceptions. A player earns an accrued season by being on the active (53-man) roster for at least six games.
  • If a player has accrued seasons, he can still be eligible for the practice squad if they were active on game day for nine or fewer regular season games in each of those accrued seasons.
  • Starting this year, every team can have two players on the practice squad who have two accrued seasons.
  • Players can only be on the practice squad for two seasons. They can be on a practice squad for a third season if their team keeps 53 players on their 53-man roster at all times.
  • Players are deemed to have served a season on a practice squad if they've been a member of the practice squad for at least three regular season or postseason games during their first two practice squad seasons, or one game during their third practice squad season.

Salary

Players don't earn full salaries on the practice squad. They make a minimum of $6,300 per week on the practice squad. This would come to $107,100 over a full season, compared to a rookie minimum salary of $420,000

Teams can and sometimes do pay players more than that to hang around on the practice squad. One infamous example was when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers paid Dezmon Briscoe a rookie minimum salary to stick around with them, which annoyed Bengals coach Marvin Lewis to no end, as he wanted to sign Briscoe to his practice squad. This is a fairly common occurrence, however, as teams try to hang on to their best developmental players.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the minimum practice squad salary was $6,000 per week, but that was last year's number. Thanks to Greg Auman for the correction.