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Everything you need to know about NFL practice squad rules

Each year, NFL teams assemble a group of players on its practice squad to add more depth to their rosters.

A Indianapolis Colts player holds a helmet on the sidelines during the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears joint Training Camp practice on August 16, 2023 at the Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, IN. Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Every NFL preseason following the final preseason game, teams across the league have to go through roster cuts. Typically, the Tuesday following the game, teams have to trim their preseason rosters down to 53 players for the regular season. Waivers process on Wednesday, and teams can start building their respective practice squads.

Practice squads used to be capped at 10 players. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though, the limit was upped to 16. Even with the pandemic over, the league has decided to keep the squad limits the same for the foreseeable future.

Who is eligible for the practice squad?

2020 was a big year for the practice squad rules. Not only were the size of the squads changed, but tweaks were made to who was even eligible to be on the practice squad. Teams can now have up to six players with more than two accrued seasons of free agency credit. They don’t have to carry six players of this type, but they can, and their practice squad can include players from the following with no limits from these groups:

  • 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
  • Essentially, of the 16 spots, 10 have to be rookies or second-year players, while the other six spots have no such limitations.

When can a team start signing players to the practice squad?

The Tuesday after the final preseason game typically is roster cut down day, and decisions must be made by 4 p.m. ET. Waiver claims typically process the next day at Noon ET, with the waiver claiming period expiring at 4 p.m. ET. After that, players can be signed to the practice squad.

More information is available on the NFL’s waiver claim system.

Promotion

One of the main points of a practice squad is having a set of players you can call upon when you need them to fill in on their active roster. The NFL’s current CBA allows 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. Also, a single player can be activated from the practice squad thrice a season. If a team wants to activate that same player a fourth time, they must be added to the active roster.

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.

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 of exceptions to this:

  1. 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 for bye weeks).
  3. A player cannot sign with another practice squad while on his current practice squad.

Salary

Practice squad salaries are set by the CBA and increase between now and 2030. The standard weekly salary in 2023 is $12,000 over 18 weeks for a total of $216,000. In 2024, and every year after, the weekly salary is increased through the 2030 season, which will end at $16,750 per week.

Vested veterans with more than two accrued seasons in the NFL will make somewhere between $16,100 and $20,600 per week, depending on an agreement between the team and the player. This amount also increases yearly through 2030.

Projected salaries for both groups can be found below and on page 197 of the CBA.