The New England Patriots have set up their initial 53-man roster, and have now turned their attention to the other roster: beginning at 12 p.m. ET on Wednesday, they can add up to 16. players to their practice squad.
All of the players released on Monday and Tuesday are potential candidates to get added to the group, so don’t be surprised if it primarily will consist of familiar names. But what exactly does all of that mean? Let’s find out.
What is the practice squad?
Prior to the 2020 season, teams were able to keep 10 players on their practice squad. While they could not play in any games unless promoted to the 53-man team, the practice squad did still serve a purpose: is was essentially a second roster to develop younger guys and also gives teams an additional group of players to help prepare for upcoming opponents.
The NFL-NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement signed into effect in 2020, however, introduced some changes. Practice squad limits initially increased to 12, before the league’s Covid-19 protocols added four more spots. Those protocols are a thing of the past, but teams are still allowed to carry up to 16 players in addition to the 53 already on their active roster.
Who is eligible to join the practice squad?
New England and the league’s other clubs can add 16 players to their practice squad this year, but there are some rules in place that limit who can be added. Article 33, Section 4 of the CBA explains who is eligible to join the practice squad, with modifications made earlier this offseason:
Section 4. Eligibility: Beginning in the 2022 League Year, the Practice Squad shall consist of the following players: (i) players who do not have an Accrued Season of NFL experience; (ii) free agent players who were on the Active List for fewer than nine regular season games during their only Accrued Season(s); (iii) a maximum of ten free agent players per Club who have earned no more than two Accrued Seasons, with such players having no limitation as to the number of games on the game day Active List in either of those seasons; and (iv) a maximum of six free agent players per Club with no limitations as to their number of earned Accrued Seasons; provided, however, that the combined total number of players in categories (iii) and (iv) above may not exceed ten.
What does all of that mean? Let’s start with the basics: accrued seasons.
Per the CBA, a player gets awarded an accrued season for each one during which “he was on, or should have been on, full pay status for a total of six or more regular season games.” This does include games spent on a team’s 53-man roster or its injured reserve and PUP lists but neither covers the non-football injury list (NFI) nor the practice squad itself.
With that as the basis, the current practice squad rules can be broken down as follows:
- Players with unlimited number of accrued seasons: max. 6*
- Players with two or fewer accrued seasons: max. 10*
- Players with no accrued seasons/Players who were active less than 9 games in their only accrued season: max. 16
*the combination of those two categories may not exceed 10 players
How much does a practice squad player get paid?
The previous CBA, which was ratified in 2011, did not specify how much practice squad players would get paid; it only stated a minimum weekly salary. The new labor deal, meanwhile, has a more structured approach to practice squad pay.
With the exception of the group iv players and their two-plus accrued seasons, every player who is on the squad (groups i-iii) will earn $11,500 per week this year, a total of $207,000 over the course of the regular season. Players in group iv, meanwhile, will get a bit more than that: they will earn up to $19,900 per week, or $358,200 for the entire season.
Practice squad salaries are paid on a bye week as well. They count against a team’s overall salary cap.
What is poaching?
The NFL allows practice squad players to be signed by other teams, but there are some rules governing the process:
- Players cannot be signed directly from one practice squad to another. They either have to be released first or added to the active 53-man team.
- Practice squad players are not allowed to sign with upcoming opponents, unless done so a minimum of six days before the two teams’ game (10 if the team is on a bye).
- If a practice squad player is signed by another team, he receives a guaranteed three-week salary and will count against the 53-man roster for at least three weeks — even if released before those three weeks are over.
What if a team promotes its own practice squad player?
One of the biggest changes in the new CBA as it relates to the practice squad is the promotion from to the active roster. While the standard rules also remain in place — practice squad members can be promoted by replacing other players on the 53-man squad; they can only return after being waived and clearing waivers; they must be paid a weekly salary based on their NFL minimum for at least three weeks — the new bargaining agreement added another stipulation.
Essentially, teams are now allowed to elevate players from their practice squad to the game day roster without having to cut a member of the 53-man team. Accordingly, teams can increase from the standard 53 to 55 players while game day active squads expand from a previous 46 to 47 players (or 48 if a team carries eight offensive linemen). Any practice squad player can be elevated and automatically reverts back to the developmental roster after a game.
Teams can use this method of promotion on the same player no more than three times a year. If the Patriots, for example, want to have one of their practice squad players on their active game day roster for a fourth game, they will have to go the standard route of promotion, moving him to replace another player on the 53-man roster and, if necessary, exposing him to waivers if the plan is to revert him back to the practice squad.
When can teams start signing practice squad players?
Every player who has entered free agency and fits the eligibility criteria can sign with a practice squad. A player who is released from a practice squad is also free to sign with another practice squad.
When it comes to the final round of roster cuts — which took place on Tuesday — the league starts the signing after the waiver period ends. That means that the Patriots and other clubs could start building their initial practice squads as of 12 p.m. ET on Wednesday.