The NFL practice squad is home to players patiently waiting for their name to be called to the active roster. It is a position commonly held by rookies and second-year players cut before the initial 53 man roster.
There are a handful of rules that affect who teams can and can’t place on their respective squads. The league pays players well for their services. Overall it’s a good system for both the team and players assigned to the practice squad.
How much do the practice squad players make?
As of September of 2020, NFL practice squad players make $8,400 per week. That is a maximum of $142,800 if they are on the squad for the entire 17 week season.
Veteran practice squad players make $12,000 per week. That equates to a maximum of $204,000 if a veteran player is on the practice squad for the entire 17 weeks during the season. (A veteran player is any NFL player with 2 or more years of NFL experience)
When a player is signed from the practice squad, their new contract has no bearing on their previous payments from their practice squad agreement.
How many players can be on a Practice Squad?
During the 2020 season, NFL teams can keep 16 players on their practice squad. This is actually a high number than normal. The NFL adjusted the practice roster size to help teams amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to the 2020 season, teams carried 10 players on their practice squad. That was the case from 2014-2019. From 2004-2013 teams had 8 players on their practice squad which isn’t a lot at all. Going back even further, the NFL only allowed teams to have 5 players on the practice squad from 1993-2003.
Having 16 players in 2020 provides an entirely different dynamic to the inactive roster. The NFL has come a long way and understands the benefit of increasing the size of the squad.
Regardless of COVID-19 the NFL was increasing the practice squad size to 14 players by 2022 per the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement. It will be interesting to see how many seasons the NFL sticks with 16.
Who is eligible?
The biggest restriction on who is eligible for the practice squad is how many veteran players a team can carry. Prior to 2020 teams could have up to 4 veteran players. As we discussed earlier, that’s any player with two or more years of NFL playing experience.
The NFL expanded to 6 veteran players in 2020 to help teams with COVID-19. The Philadelphia Eagles are an example of a team that is taking full advantage of the new rule. They recently announced they signed 41-year-old veteran quarterback Josh McCown to the practice squad to serve as the emergency quarterback.
McCown will be staying away from the team and staying in shape. There have not been any other reports of teams using the new veteran expansion in this manner but expect more to follow suit.
More changes effective this season
The NFL made a few other changes to give teams more flexibility in activating the practice squad players. Practice squad players can now be activated on game day before the team announces their inactive players which is due 90 minutes before the game. The team can do this with 2 players every week. The only stipulations are that they can’t do this with the same player on consecutive weeks and can only activate each player on gameday twice throughout the entire season. They can of course sign them to the active roster.
These changes will cause teams to pay more attention to their practice squads. This will create more competition over these players being that they are now more important. Because of that, the NFL created some rules for teams to protect their players. Teams can now protect four players on their practice squad every single week. The protections start on Tuesday and are in effect until the game that week has completed. After that protection expires, another team can sign that player to their active roster.