During one of the more anti-climatic moments of the year (just like every year), the Cincinnati Bengals announced their practice squad on Sunday, highlighted by the return of defensive tackle DeShawn Williams, a pair of decent-looking running backs, a quarterback who could be mistaken as a relative of Dane DeHaan, and rookies Cincinnati would (obviously) like to develop.
Does this mean practice squad players are locked into a Cincinnati zip code for the rest of the year?
Aside from the fact that Cincinnati will swap out squad players throughout the season, finding better talent or pieces with better fits to their respective units, others teams can swing through town and sign a practice squad player to their respective 53-man roster... and it won't cost them anything. The only exception is that Cincinnati's next opponent can't sign a Bengals practice squad player within six days of their upcoming matchup (10 days if there's a bye week). In addition, the "other" team must sign the player to their 53-man roster and hold them there for at least three weeks, if they want to take the player off another team's practice squad.
Otherwise, it's open season.
Let's do an example: If the San Diego Chargers needed a defensive tackle, they could contact DeShawn Williams' representatives and offer him a contract. Unlike waivers, or any other scenario where a player lacks control over their own destinations, Williams can do whatever he wants. If he chooses to stay in Cincinnati, he can refuse to sign, earning $112,200 for being on the Bengals practice squad as opposed to the $435,000 minimum for a rookie on the 53-man roster (both are prorated). If he wants to stay in Cincinnati but only if it's on the Bengals' 53-man roster, Williams could approach the Bengals front office and say, "This is what the Chargers are offering me. Do you want to do the same?" The Bengals could decide to sign Williams onto their 53-man roster, matching the contract (or adding a bit of icing to show their appreciation toward his loyalty). Or they could let Williams go, and receive zero compensation as a result. Per Article 33, second two:
How often does this happen?
Last year, it happened four times, including when center Trevor Robinson (San Diego Chargers), linebacker Khairi Fortt (Jacksonville Jaguars), linebacker Terrell Manning (New York Giants) and defensive tackle David King (Seattle Seahawks) were signed away from the team. Cincinnati played the field as well, signing linebacker Nico Johnson off of Kansas City's practice squad last October.
Should the Bengals worry about DeShawn Williams? Yes and no. Williams is a talented player who showed something during the preseason; teams will look, especially as the season nears the December solstice. There's nothing in the aforementioned CBA snippet preventing Williams from negotiating a deal that would put him on a 53-man roster on any team expressing interest, including the Bengals -- not unlike divorced parents rivaling each other for their child's economic love.
On the other hand, Williams might generate enough reaction from Cincinnati to convince him to stay, signing him to the 53-man roster if their hand is forced. We'll see how it plays out; many thought Williams wouldn't even clear waivers. Yet, of the 27 players who were claimed by teams in the NFL on Sunday, he wasn't one of them.