Negotiations with practice squad players can be tricky

Andy Lyons

The Cincinnati Bengals faced a negotiation several years ago with a former player that left Cincinnati for another team's practice squad.

There were 1,184 players that were added to the free agency pool over the last four days when teams reduced their roster from 90 to 75 players, and then 75 to 53 on Saturday. Most of them are undrafted free agents hoping for opportunities to translate an NFL dream into reality, and 77 of those college free agents earned a spot on their team's respective 53-man roster this weekend, including Bengals linebacker Jayson DiManche.

For the remaining that were waived on Saturday, the period for when teams can submit a claim will expire at noon (ET) on Sunday. Thus begins Sunday's syllabus to develop a practice squad -- a collection of eight players, mostly rookies, that will become the de facto scout team during practice. Many teams use the practice squad to develop their own, and the Bengals have a history of practice squad players earning their meals in the NFL. Preceding the waiver expiration, teams are jockeying players, making promises about their futures or offering a little more than the minimum practice squad salary, to bring them back. In most cases, they will.

In other cases, a player may find better opportunities with another club. He has options.

Dezmon Briscoe was a sixth-round wide receiver that the Bengals drafted during the 2010 NFL draft. After being waived during final cuts, Briscoe negotiated with other teams for better opportunities and found a partner with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Instead of signing on their 53-man roster, he became a practice squad player for Tampa Bay. Not Cincinnati.

Why?

Simple.

Money.

The minimum salary for a practice squad player in 2010 was $5,200 per week. Tampa Bay offered Briscoe the rookie league minimum worth $310,000 with the team's practice squad with (what we're sure were) assurances that he'd be promoted quickly. He was finally transferred to the 53-man roster in late November that year, but played only two games. Briscoe added a 16-game season in 2011 generating six scores on 35 receptions, but left for the Washington Redskins in 2012.

At the time, Lewis was upset. A practice squad player shouldn't be making the minimum salary that a rookie would normally earn on the 53-man roster.

"When you overpay a guy on the practice squad, you create a problem for teams,'' Lewis said in Oct. '10. "I don't know that teams want to set that precedent and they did with Dez. That's not a great precedent for teams to set as we try to keep the NFL and doing the things we're trying to do as a league. It's still a league of 32 teams and things are put together a certain way.''

Raheem Morris, who was the head coach for the Buccaneers at the time, was invited to the Marvin Lewis Golf Classic in May '11 and was asked if there was any division with Lewis, actively avoiding the issue.

"That's business, this is about the community and the bigger picture," Morris said. "It's not about whether you have a disagreement on the field or whether I like him on game day. I wanted to come in for Marvin and be supportive of him because he's always been supportive of me."

Cincinnati could be facing a similar situation if there are negotiations. Running back Daniel Herron or wide receiver Cobi Hamilton could receive similar interest from another team regarding their practice squad. It's doubtful that the Bengals would match a poison pill-like contract similar to Dezmon Briscoe -- and it's even more doubtful that either would receive anything close to that. But some of these practice squad eligible players are talented enough that Cincinnati will want to offer more than the minimum $6,000 per week minimum that practice squad players will earn.

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