The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will announce their final roster cuts at 4:00 p.m. ET today, though astute reporters have already deduced them. Afterwards, they'll start to put together a practice squad, mostly by signing players they just cut, but also by picking up a few players who didn't make other teams.
The practice squad is both developmental, a group of players necessary to run effective practices, and a source of emergency injury fill-ins during the season. It's also a group that's constantly in flux: every week, teams change something about their practice squads -- sometimes just to get to know something about upcoming opponents, signing players who were with those teams in recent teams. The New England Patriots are particularly notorious for doing this.
So the practice squad is a fairly important part of every team, but rules for the practice squad are often unclear to fans, especially with regard to who can and can't be on it. So let's go through a few of the key things to know about the practice squad.
How many players can be on the practice squad?
Ten on each team's practice squad. That number used to be lower, but the NFLPA and NFL agreed to move to a ten-man practice squad in 2014, and made that move permanent this offseason.
Who can be signed to the practice squad?
Anyone with no regular season experience is eligible for the practice squad, and those players will usually represent the bulk of the team's developmental group.
Any player with one or fewer accrued seasons is also eligible for the practice squad, and a player accrues a season in the NFL if they're signed to either the 53-man roster, or on injured reserve, or on the reserve/physically unable to perform list, for six or more games in one season.
In addition, this year, four players per practice squad can have two accrued seasons of NFL experience, a change made to make it easier for players to stick around the league after gaining a little experience, but struggling to stick on 53-man rosters.
Players can be on a single team's practice squad for a maximum of three years, but only seasons where they're on a team's practice squad for at least six games count for that rule.
What can practice squad players do?
They can practice with the team, and that's about it. They can be signed to the 53-man roster the day before a game to play in that game. If a player's signed to the 53-man roster, he has to be paid like a 53-man roster for at least three weeks, even if he's released before those three weeks are over.
Can practice squad players sign with other teams?
Teams can sign another team's practice squad player to their 53-man roster, if the player agrees to sign there. They cannot poach other team's practice squad players for their own practice squad, unless those players have first been released from the practice squad, of course.
Detail: teams can't sign their opponent's practice squad players in the six days leading up to a game, or ten days leading up to a game after a bye week.
How much do practice squad players make?
Practice squad players earn a minimum of $6,900 per week that they are on the practice squad. That's $117,300 for a seventeen-week season, plus $6,900 per week his team is in the playoffs. That's a significant amount of money, but the lowest-paid player on the 53-man roster earn almost four times as much: $450,000 for a rookie.
Those are minimum numbers, though, and players can and often do elect to pay their practice squad players more to keep them from signing with other teams -- sometimes, practice squad players make as much as the rookie minimum salary, to make sure they won't be tempted by another team's offer to sign onto their 53-man roster. The Bucs reportedly paid Howard Jones a rookie minimum salary last season, before signing him to their own 53-man roster.