The practice squad is an important part of an NFL franchise
All 32 teams are bound to encounter injuries throughout a rigorous 17-game season, and the practice squad provides them with replacement options who are already familiar with the system.
It won’t be uncommon to see teams promote and sign practice squad players to their active rosters throughout the 2021 season, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic still being a factor.
With that said, here’s everything you need to know about NFL practice squads for this season.
How many players are on an NFL practice squad?
The NFL increased the size of practice squads to a maximum of 16 players ahead of last season. Practice squads were originally set to increase from 10 to 12 in 2020 and then up to 14 in 2022, but the number was raised to 16 to help prepare for the effect that COVID-19 would have on the season. The size of practice squads remains at 16 for this season.
How much money do NFL practice squad players make?
Players with two or fewer accrued NFL seasons earn at least $9,200 per week, which equals $165,600 for 18 weeks spent on the practice squad. (A player accrues a season when they are on full-time pay status for at least six regular-season games). Players with more than two accrued seasons make a minimum of $14K per week and $252K for the whole season. For comparison, the minimum salary for a rookie on an active roster this season is $660K.
Practice squad players can be paid more than those minimum figures and their salaries do count against a team’s salary cap.
If a practice squad player is promoted to the active roster, he earns the prorated minimum salary for a player with his years of experience. So a rookie called up to the active roster ahead of a game would see his pay increased from $9,200 to over $36,000. A player with seven-plus years of experience would earn over $59K.
A practice squad player actually being signed to an active roster comes with a guarantee of three game checks.
What are the rules for NFL practice squads?
Here are some of the most notable rules to know regarding practice squads:
- A maximum of six players on a practice squad can have more than two accrued seasons of experience.
- Teams are allowed to protect four practice players per week from being signed by rival teams. There is no limit on how many times a player can be protected throughout the season. These protections can be made after 4 p.m. ET on Tuesdays.
- The only way a practice squad player can be scooped up by another team is if they are signed to the active roster. A team cannot sign a rival practice squad player to their own practice squad. A practice squad player cannot sign with their team’s next opponent, unless it’s at least six days before the game (10 if it’s a bye week).
- Each week, teams have the ability to promote two practice squad players without having to create space for them on the active roster, giving teams access to a 54th and 55th roster spot. This transaction must be made by 4 p.m. ET the day before a game. Following the game, these promoted players revert back to the practice squad without going through waivers. A player can be promoted to the active roster via this mechanism twice per season. If a team wants to call up a player for a third time, they must sign him to their roster.
- If a team encounters a late positive COVID-19 case, they can promote an additional practice squad player within 90 minutes before kickoff.