Last week, the NFL made news by announcing an agreement with the NFLPA to expand NFL practice squads in 2014 and 2015 from the current maximum of eight players to 10 players.
But those weren't the only changes the two sides agreed to. Two other changes to the practice squad rules may turn out to be just as important as the expanded number of players.
First, a player must now have a minimum of six games – up from the current three games – on a practice squad in order for that season to count as one of the player’s three permissible seasons of practice squad service.
Second, each club will be permitted to sign up to two practice squad players who have earned up to two accrued seasons of free agency credit. An accrued season means a player was on full pay status for more than eight regular season games on the 53-man roster or on IR. Previously, a player who had earned one or more accrued seasons would not be eligible for a practice squad unless the player spent fewer than nine games on a club’s 46-player active list in each of his accrued seasons.
This is an important change, as it covers basically the entire rookie classes of 2012 and 2013, both drafted and undrafted players, regardless of how many NFL games they played. The Cowboys are not going to attempt to smuggle their top draft picks onto the practice squad, but it could be an opportunity for fringe players with two accrued seasons like LaRon Byrd, Matt Johnson, or an as yet unsigned two-year veteran.
Practice squad basics
- Each NFL team can now have up to 10 players on its practice squad.
- Practice squad players ... practice with the team. They do not play in games.
- Not all players are eligible to be signed to NFL practice squads (see new rules on eligibility above).
- Practice squad players are paid per week and can be released at any point during the season.
- Practice squad players are free to sign with other NFL teams, but they have to be signed to the 53-man active roster of the acquiring team. A practice squad player cannot be signed to another practice squad unless he is first released.
- A practice squad player can not sign with his team's upcoming opponent, unless he does so six days before the upcoming game or 10 days if his team is currently on a bye week.
- If a practice squad player is signed to the active roster, he will receive a minimum of three weekly paychecks, even if he is released before spending three weeks with the team.
- In order to be signed to a practice squad after being released, a player must first clear through waivers, and is subject to waiver claims by other teams
- Teams are allowed to carry one additional "International Player," whose citizenship and principal place of residence are outside the United States and its Territories. That player doesn't count against the 10-man limit.
Practice squad players earn significantly less than players on the active roster, but they still take home a solid weekly paycheck. NFL practice squad players make a minimum of $6,300 per week that they are on the practice squad. There is no limit to how much a team can pay a player on the practice squad. Some teams will offer a higher weekly salary in order to entice better players to sign, although the practice squad contracts do count against the salary cap.
The Patriots for example are one NFL team that consistently goes above and beyond the minimum practice squad rate. At certain points, the Pats have paid their entire practice squad weekly rates above the minimum salary. In 2012, Tampa Bay defensive end Markus White was the NFL's highest-paid player on a practice squad, earning $17,647 per week, or $300,000 over the season.
If a player remains on the practice squad for an entire regular season, he would earn a minimum of $107,100. For comparison, a rookie player on the active roster will earn a minimum salary of $420,000 this year.
At the end of the day, every Cowboys player has to pass through waivers before the Cowboys can re-sign him to their practice squad, which always carries the risk of that player being picked up by another team.
Final roster cuts to 53 players have to be done by Saturday, 4:00 pm ET, and teams can begin signing players to their practice squads on Sunday starting at noon ET.