Practice squad eligibility is often one of the most misunderstood things about how NFL teams are allowed to build their rosters. Let’s break down the basics of how practice squads are constructed, who is and is not eligible, and how much money players on NFL practice squads make on both a weekly and an annual basis.
Now that the New York Giants have set their initial 53-man roster, attention will turn to the practice squad. NFL teams can begin establishing a practice squad at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, one hour after the waiver period expires.
Practice squad basics
- Practice squads can consist of as many as 10 players.
- Eight teams may have an 11th “International player,” whose primary residence is outside the United States. The league will decide in any given year which teams will be allowed to have such a player. The Giants are not one of those in 2019.
- Practice squad players are free to sign with any other NFL team, provided they are placed immediately on the signing team’s 53-man roster. A player cannot jump from one practice squad to another unless he is released first, thus becoming a free agent.
- A practice squad player may not sign to the active roster of his team’s upcoming opponent, unless he does so during a bye week or at least six days prior to the upcoming game.
- A player must pass through waivers after being released before he can be signed to a practice squad. This is why the Giants would be unlikely to try and pass a player like quarterback Kyle Lauletta, their fourth-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, through to the practice squad. One of the other 31 NFL teams would almost certainly claim Lauletta, and the Giants would have no way to retain the player.
- If a practice squad player signs to the active roster of another team, he is guaranteed three weeks of NFL regular-season salary even if he is released after only one week.
Practice squad eligibility
Not all NFL players are eligible for practice squads. These practice squads are generally designed to give young players opportunities to break into the league, though there can be some exceptions.
- A player may only serve two seasons on a practice squad. An otherwise eligible player may be a practice squad player for a third season only if the team by which he is employed that season has at least 53 players on its Active/Inactive List during the entire period of his employment.
- A practice squad player needs to have less than one accrued season of NFL experience. An accrued NFL season is considered six games, but players with one accrued season who were active for less than nine games regular-season games would be practice squad eligible.
- A player is deemed to have served a full practice squad season if he is on a team’s practice for at least six weeks.
- Up to four of the 10 players can have two accrued seasons. A player can spend no more than three seasons on a practice squad.
Practice squad salary
Since the CBA was agreed upon in 2011, practice squad players have been paid an increasing amount each season. In 2011, that was $5,700 per week. In 2019, practice squad players will earn $8,000 per week. Counting the bye week, which the CBA indicates practice squad players get paid for, a player on a team’s practice squad could earn $136,000- for a full regular season. Practice squad players also get paid for each week their team is in the playoffs.
Team can pay practice squad players more than the slotted weekly salary to entice them to stay on a practice squad and not accept an offer to join the 53-man roster of another team. This happened to Alex Tanney of the Giants in 2016 when he was a member of the Tennessee Titans. He turned down an offer to join the Cleveland Browns, instead choosing to stay in Tennessee with an increased practice squad salary.