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Everything you need to know about 2021 practice squad rules

NFL teams are setting up their practice squads. We look at all the notable rules for practice squads during the 2021 NFL season.

The NFL logo on the field prior to the game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Jacksonville Jaguars at M&T Bank Stadium on December 20, 2020 in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

NFL teams had to cut down to 53 players by this past Tuesday afternoon, and waivers will run on Wednesday. Once waivers runs, anybody not claimed becomes a free agent — free to sign anywhere.

Once the waiver process runs on Wednesday at noon ET, teams can begin signing up to 16 players to their practice squad the afternoon of Wednesday, September 1. This is the second consecutive year the league has offered a 16-person practice squad after years of eight and then ten players being on the practice squad. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in rule changes last season and the league appears comfortable carrying them over moving forward.

How many players on the practice squad?

16 — The practice squad had been 8 players, and then bumped to 10 in 2014. The NFL and NFLPA had increased it to 12 last year, but the pandemic resulted in increasing it to 16 players. It remains at 16 moving forward.

Who is eligible for the practice squad?

The rules were changed a year ago, with the notable being that teams could now have up to six players with more than two accrued seasons of free agency credit. Teams don’t have to have six such players, and the rest of their practice squad includes the following with no limits on either group (outside of the 16-player max):

  • Have no prior Accrued Seasons in the NFL (An accrued season is six or more games on the active roster);
  • Have one prior Accrued Season in which the player was on the 46-man active roster for no more than 8 games

When can a team start signing players to the practice squad

UPDATE: The Tuesday afternoon transaction report says the claiming deadline for waivers is actually 12 p.m. ET not 4 p.m. ET. That would seem to mean practice squad signing can happen after that.

Per the NFL Operations Department, clubs can start signing players to their practice squads “[u]pon receipt of the Personnel Notice” on the 1st. The claiming period for waivers expires at 4 p.m. ET, and the personnel notice is likely to go out after that.


A year ago before the pandemic was in full swing, the NFL started a new collective bargaining agreement. That CBA allowed for up to two players in a given game week to be promoted to the active roster without giving the players a normal player contract. Normally, a player must be removed from the 53-man roster to make room for a practice squad promotion. Then, if the promoted player is sent back down to the practice squad, he has to clear waivers. That is not the case with these two players.

Under this new rule, players revert to the practice squad the next business day without going through waivers. A player can be utilized in this way for two total games during the season. The promotion has to happen before 4 p.m. ET the day before the game.

A team can promotion one additional practice squad player within 90 minutes before kickoff in the event of a late COVID-19 positive test result.

Player rights

A practice squad player is an employee of that particular team, but unlike a player on the 53-man roster (or an injured list), a practice squad player has the right to sign with another team’s 53-man roster.

There are a couple exceptions to this:

  1. Last year, the league implemented a rule allowing each team to protect up to four of its practice squad players from other teams. That remains in place this year.
  2. A practice squad player may not sign a contract with his team’s next opponent after 4 p.m. ET six days preceding the game (10 days preceding in bye weeks).
  3. A player cannot sign with another practice squad while on his current practice squad.


Practice squad players make $9,200 per week or $165,600 for 18 weeks. Veteran players with over two years of experience will make $14,000 per week or $252,000 for 18 weeks.

Teams are allowed to pay a player a higher salary than the minimum, and this often happens if another team comes sniffing around a player. All practice squad salaries are counted under the team’s salary cap.