The 53-man roster is set. Alright so it's never truly "set". But at least the Bengals reduced their number to 53, releasing a handful of players and putting others on roster exemption lists (PUP, Suspension). With that accomplished for now, the Cincinnati Bengals can start developing this year's practice squad. Players that clear waivers by noon Saturday can sign with any team's practice squad, provided they are eligible according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The actual language of the rules for practice squad eligibility is within Article 33 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which we present after the jump. To prevent you from reading a 316 page PDF document, here are some of the more broken down elements of the rules as it relates to eligibility:
- Can not have spent the previous two seasons on the practice squad (there are allowances for a third season, provided the team he's employed with maintains a full 53-man roster throughout the entire season, or time he's with the team);
- Players without an accrued season of NFL experience;
- Free agent players who were on the active list fewer than nine games on their only accrued season(s).
A season on the practice squad is considered at least three regular season or postseason games during his first two seasons on that team's practice squad, and only one game during the third season. After that players are thus ineligible.
Now the question, what's an accrued season. Article 8, Section 1 within the Collective Bargaining Agreement defines an accrued season as:
a player shall receive one Accrued Season for each season during which he was on, or should have been on, full pay status for a total of six or more regular season games, but which, irrespective of the player’s pay status, shall not include games for which the player was on: (i) the Exempt Commissioner Permission List, (ii) the Reserve PUP List as a result of a nonfootball injury, or (iii) a Club’s Practice Squad.
For the practical purposes of our discussion without the complexity of legal dribble that protects players and the owners, the critical part to remember is six games or more during a regular season constitutes an accrued season.
The practice squad is usually formed the day after the 53-man roster deadline passes, typically allowing players to clear waivers and sign with any team offering them a contract for the practice squad. Usually players join the team that they practiced with because it's familiar to them -- most practice squad guys are generally rookies and first-year players. However they're free to sign with anyone (see: Briscoe, Dezmon).
Now the boring language within the CBA.
Section 1. Practice Squads:
- (a) The League may elect in any League Year in accordance with this Article to establish Practice Squads not to exceed eight (8) players per Club. The League’s election in any one season shall not determine or affect its election in any subsequent season.
- (b) The League may elect to allow some or all Clubs to add to their Practice Squads one additional player, who shall not count against the limit above, whose citizenship and principal place of residence are outside the United States and its Territories ("International Player"). The League’s election in any one season shall not determine or affect its election in any subsequent season. Such International Players shall be subject to the same terms and conditions of employment that apply to other Practice Squad players except that they (1) may not, during the term of their Practice Squad Contract, negotiate or sign an NFL Player Contract with any Club; and (2) may not practice with any Club following the last Conference Championship Game unless both Conference Champion-ship teams have such a player. In addition, notwithstanding the provisions of Section 4 below, such International Player shall be eligible to serve on a Practice Squad for three additional seasons after the completion of the player’s year(s) as an International Player. As set forth in Section 3 below, the weekly salary for such International Players shall not be included in the employing Club’s Team Salary and shall instead be deducted from the calculation of the Salary Cap in the same manner as any Player Benefit Cost.
- (c) The Practice Squad Player Contract form attached hereto as Appendix J will be used for all Practice Squad player signings. This form cannot be amended without the approval of the Management Council and the NFLPA. Notwithstanding the fore-going, changes may be agreed to between a Club and a Practice Squad player consistent with the provisions of this Agreement.
Section 2. Signing With Other Clubs:
- (a) Any player under contract to a Club as a Practice Squad player shall be completely free to negotiate and sign a Player Contract with any Club at any time during the League Year, to serve as a player on any Club’s Active or Inactive List, and any Club is completely free to negotiate and sign such a Player Contract with such player, without penalty or restriction, including, but not limited to, Draft Choice Compensation between Clubs or First Refusal Rights of any kind, or any signing period, except that such player shall not be permitted to sign a Player Contract with another Club to serve as a Practice Squad player while under contract as a Practice Squad player.
- (b) Notwithstanding Subsection (a) above, a Practice Squad player may not sign an NFL Player Contract with his Club’s next opponent later than 4:00pm, New York time, on the sixth day preceding the game (except in bye weeks, when the prohibition commences on the tenth day preceding the game). When the current employer club has a bye the weekend before the game against the Club signing the Practice Squad player to an NFL Player Contract, such contract must be executed prior to 4:00pm, New York time, on the 10th day preceding the game.
Section 3. Salary: Minimum salary for a Practice Squad player shall be the following per week, including postseason weeks in which his Club is in the playoffs:
Section 4. Eligibility:
- (a) The Practice Squad shall consist of the following players, provided that they have not served more than two previous seasons on a Practice Squad: (i) players who do not have an Accrued Season of NFL experience; and (ii) free agent players who were on the Active List for fewer than nine regular season games during their only Accrued Season(s). An otherwise eligible player may be a Practice Squad player for a third season only if the Club by which he is employed that season has at least 53 players on its Active/Inactive List during the entire period of his employment.
- (b) A player shall be deemed to have served on a Practice Squad in a season if he has passed the club’s physical and been a member of the club’s Practice Squad for at least three regular season or postseason games during his first two Practice Squad seasons, and for at least one regular season or postseason game during his third Practice Squad season. (For purposes of this Section, a bye week counts as a game provided that the player is not terminated until after the regular season or postseason weekend in question.)
Section 5. Active List: If a player on the Practice Squad of one club (Club A) signs an NFL Player Contract with another club (Club B), (1) the player shall receive three weeks salary of his NFL Player Contract at the 53-player Active/Inactive List minimum even if he is terminated by Club B prior to earning that amount, and (2) Club B is required to count the player on its 53-player Active/Inactive List for three games (a bye week counts as a game) even if he is terminated, traded, or assigned via waivers to another club or is signed as a free agent to another club’s 53-player roster or another club’s Practice Squad prior to that time. If the player is terminated from Club B’s 53-player roster and signed to Club B’s Practice Squad, he shall continue to count on the club’s 53-player Active/Inactive List but shall not count against the eight-player Practice Squad limit until the three-game requirement has been fulfilled. If a player is terminated prior to the completion of the three-game period and is signed to Club B’s Practice Squad or is signed or assigned to another Club’s 53-player roster or Practice Squad, any Salary (as that term is defined in Article 13, Section 4 that he receives from any NFL club applicable to the three-game period shall be an offset against the three weeks’ Salary that he is entitled to receive from Club B. If the promotion occurs with fewer than three games remaining in the Club’s regular season, the three game requirement for roster count shall not carry over into the next season.
Section 6. Contagious Disease Addendum:
- (a) All Practice Squad players will execute an addendum to the Practice Player Contract relating to the Contagious Disease Policy (as set forth in Appendix J).
- (b) If a player is elevated from Practice Squad to the 53-player Active/Inactive List for a game because a club was given roster exemptions due to confirmed or suspected cases of a contagious disease among its players, then the terms of the addendum in that Player’s Practice Player Contract will be in effect. A Practice Squad player who is elevated to the 53-player Active/Inactive List under these circumstances will not be required to sign an NFL Player Contract for that game.
- (c) Any player who is elevated from the Practice Squad to the affected club’s 53-player Active/Inactive List for the game will be paid 1/17th of the Paragraph 5 minimum salary for Active/Inactive List players with the same number of credited seasons. Any games for which a player is elevated in this manner to the 53-player Active/Inactive List would count for purposes of earning a Credited Season for both minimum salary and pension credit and an Accrued Season for purposes of free agency, even though player is playing under the aforementioned addendum to his Practice Player Contract.
- (d) At the conclusion of the club’s game, any player who was elevated from the Practice Squad to the affected club’s 53-player Active/Inactive List for the game will automatically revert to the club’s Practice Squad roster without going through waivers.
- (e) In the event a Practice Squad player: (1) sustains a football-related injury (either in a practice prior to the game or in the game itself) after being elevated to the 53-player Active/Inactive List under the circumstances described in Subsection (b) above, and (2) is physically unable to practice or play for the Club due to the injury, then the player’s weekly compensation specified in Paragraph 4 of the Practice Squad Player Con-tract will be adjusted to 1/17th of the Paragraph 5 minimum salary for players not on a Club’s Active/Inactive List (i.e., the "down" amount) with the same number of Credited Seasons. Such a player shall receive this weekly "salary continuation" for so long as he remains physically unable to perform the services required of him because of such injury. Once the Practice Squad player is physically able to perform the services required of him by his Practice Squad Player Contract, then his salary will be adjusted to the amount set forth in Paragraph 4 ("Compensation") of that contract for the period of time he re-mains on the club’s Practice Squad.
- (f) If a Practice Squad player sustains a football-related injury during the game in which he was elevated (or during a practice after being elevated but prior to the game) and is subsequently placed on Reserve/Injured, then he will be paid (for so long as he remains physically unable to perform the services required of him because of such injury) the prorated portion of the Paragraph 5 minimum salary for players not on a Club’s Active/Inactive List (i.e., the "down" amount) with the same number of Credited Seasons. A Practice Squad player, who is placed on Reserve/Injured under these circumstances, must be signed by his Club to an NFL Player Contract at the time he is placed on that reserve list category.
- (g) If a player receives salary under the circumstances set forth in Subsections (e) or (f) above, then those games shall count toward a Credited Season under the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan.
- (h) If a Club chooses to add the Practice Squad player to its 53-player Active/Inactive List following the game in which exemptions were granted and the player was elevated, then the Club must follow all of the established procedures for signing a Practice Squad player to an NFL Player Contract (including making room for that player on club’s 53-player Active/Inactive List).
- (j) Use of these procedures by any Club in any week of the regular or post-season shall be in the sole discretion of the Club subject only to prior approval of the Commissioner and after a showing of confirmed or suspected contagious disease among its players. The NFLPA and its Medical Director shall be informed when such procedures are invoked.