The NFL teams have cut their rosters down to 53 players. Simplistically, one might think all they have to do now is to get ready for the first game of the year starting a week from today. Not quite so… If you look at the agate section of the sports section today, you will find that teams are busy claiming players who were cut by Team A and signing them onto Team B thereby causing Team B to release some player who had been on their squad. Or Team B might claim them and sign them onto Team B’s practice squad. And so, I thought I would spend a bit of time today trying to explain what a practice squad is and what happens with the players assigned there.
The practice squad is what the name implies; it is a cadre of players who are attached to an NFL team more loosely than roster players. Practice squad guys do indeed practice with the team and are often involved in simulating the team’s upcoming opponent. And of course, practice squad players can be reassigned to the 53-man roster by a team in case of injuries and the benefit to the team is that the practice squad guy has lots of familiarity with the team’s system(s).
Prior to the COVID outbreak in 2020, the practice squad was limited to 10 players per team but that was expanded to 16 players for the 2020 season with the idea that COVID infections could force a team to quarantine a bunch of the roster without warning. The league did not want to cancel any regular season games – – and did not have to – – and the expanded practice squad for 2020 was sort of an insurance policy against such an event.
The new CBA – completed prior to the 2020 season – called for an expansion of practice squads from 10 players to 12 players and then on to 14 players in the course of the new CBA. However, after the 2020 season, the league presented the NFLPA with a modification to the CBA to keep the limit at 16 players and the union accepted that addendum.
To explain the details of practice squad limits and player salaries, I have to give you the definition of an “NFL accrued season”:
- A player earns an accrued season when he is on the roster of a team at full-pay – – not practice squad pay – – for six games.
With that definition in mind, there are restrictions on the composition of any team’s practice squad. Heaven forbid that a team could just sign 16 free agents to the squad and let it go from there; that would be far too simple and understandable. So, here are team constraints on the 16-man practice squad:
- Any player who does not have 1 accrued season is eligible to be placed on a practice squad.
- If a player has only 1 accrued season AND he was on the active list for fewer than nine games in that accrued season, he is eligible for a practice squad.
- A team’s practice squad may contain no more than 10 players who have earned more than 2 accrued seasons.
- A team’s practice squad may contain no more than 6 players who have “no limitations to their number of earned accrued seasons.”
[Aside: Why do I think these constraints were put together by lawyers and not coaches and players?]
Now that you know all about what sorts of players are on practice squads, the question is, how are they paid. As you might suspect, there are rules that govern that issue too.
- Players with two or fewer accrued NFL seasons earn at least $11,500 per week, which equals $207,000 for a player on a practice squad for an entire regular season.
- Players with two or more accrued seasons make a minimum of $15,400 per week amounting to $277,200 for a whole season.
- 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.
The fundamental difference between a “roster player” and a “practice squad player” is the strength of the attachment between the player and the team. Practice squad players are free agents; if Team A needs to sign a tight end because of injuries on Team A, and if Team B has a tight end on its practice squad who had been graded highly by Team A’s scouts, then Team A can sign that tight end to its active roster. Note, the tampering rules associated with poaching players on the active roster do not apply. And if a player is signed away from his current practice squad status to the active roster of another team, that players is guaranteed three game checks at the minimum salary for his number of accrued seasons.
As if all those procedural strings were not enough to turn management of a practice squad into an undertaking only slightly less challenging than 3-D chess, here are a couple more random rules:
- Teams can elevate a player three times in the regular season. After that, they must sign the player to the 53-man roster. This is a new wrinkle, in the past, a team could only elevate a player twice throughout the regular season or postseason.
- Teams can protect up to four practice players each week from being signed by another team. There is no limit on how many times a player can be protected throughout the season.
- A practice squad player signed by another team must be signed to the new team’s 53-man roster. Practice squad to practice squad signings are forbidden.
So, as you read and hear about a player from Podunk State signing onto the practice squad for an NFL team, keep in mind that there are folks in the pro personnel department of that team who are concerned with following all these rules and regulations. It is not just a handshake deal between player and team.
Switching to the other kind of football – – the one played in the English Premier League … Last season was very successful for Bournemouth under the direction of manager, Scott Parker; the club had been relegated from the EPL to the Championship League in 2020, but last year Bournemouth finished second in the Championship to qualify for a return to the Premiership.
The team has played 5 games in this season winning 1 losing 3 and earning a tie in 1 game. That is not a great record, but it does have the team just outside the relegation zone so early in the EPL season. Nonetheless, the team fired Parker after the fourth game. No, he was not caught up in something scandalous which was my first thought when I read about his firing. The reason is that in that fourth game of the season, Bournemouth lost to Liverpool by the outrageous score of 9 to Nil.
Obviously, the team focus shifted from “What have you done for us lately?” to “What have you done to us this week?”
Finally, after yesterday’s rant mentioned the over-abundance of stats delivered by baseball broadcasters these days, I received this email from a former colleague who is a long-term reader and an LA Dodgers’ fan:
“Another type of stat I can do without:
“’When the count is 2-1 on Joe Flabeetz and the next pitch is a 92 MPH cutter on the outside part of the plate and the temperature is between 70 and 75 degrees, he puts the ball in play 8.5% of the time.’
Can we have an AMEN! for Brother Jim here…???
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………