Failing to make a 53-man roster does not mean the NFL dream is dead for players around the league.
Every year, the practice squad allows players to keep their NFL pursuit alive and continue to work as part of an NFL team. While the pay isn't as good and they can't play in live games, life on the practice squad is certainly better than life without a job.
Here is everything you need to know about the NFL practice squad in 2016 including how it’s constructed, who is eligible and what happens once you’re on the squad.
Before teams can build their 10-man practice squad, the final roster cuts to 53 players must be done by Saturday, September 3, 4:00 pm ET, and teams can begin signing players to their practice squads on Sunday, September 4, starting at 1:00 p.m. ET. Most teams will have their practice squads completed and announced by Monday, September 5.
Every year, more than 700 NFL players face the prospects of being unemployed by the second week in September, but not all is lost for those who get their pink slips. In many professional sports teams, getting cut often signals the end of the road with their team, but the NFL offers a saving grace in the form of a practice squad.
Practice squad players are used as their name indicates, which is to practice with the team. They do not play in games.
Not all players are eligible for a practice squad. In most cases, eligibility is limited to players who have been on an active roster for fewer than six games, or were on a 45-man active gameday roster for fewer than nine games.
However, beginning in 2016, the NFL is allowing four players per practice squad to have two accrued seasons, making it easier for teams to have experienced players on their practice squad. In the previous agreement, only two players with two accrued seasons were allowed to be on a practice squad.
A player is allowed on the practice squad for up to two years, with one year counting as six weeks in a season. A third year on the practice squad is only allowed if the team keeps 53 players on their active roster at all times.
Practice Squad Salary
Practice squad players earn paychecks on a weekly basis. They’re not getting the same huge paychecks as players on the 53-man roster, but it's better than nothing.
For the 2016 season, practice squad players can make no less than $6,900 per week, which equates to $117,300 for the season.
To protect their players from leaving for other teams, or because they really like the potential of a given player, some teams pay their roster squad players more than the minimum. There is no limit to how much a team can pay a player on the practice squad and practice squad contracts do count against the salary cap.
In 2015, the Rams paid supplemental draft pick OT Isaiah Battle $25,588 per week, which adds up to $435,000 over 17 weeks, the highest amount ever paid to a practice squad player. Teams can take it pretty far to protect their guys.
A practice squad player can sign to another team's active roster at any point, but can't leave for another practice squad unless they're released. The only time practice squad players can't be signed to an active roster is when a team's next opponent is simply trying to get information from them by signing them prior to a matchup.
Practice squad players are prohibited from signing with the next opponent of their current team any less than five days before the game, or nine days during a bye week. If a practice squad player is signed to an active roster, they will receive a minimum of three paychecks, even if they're released earlier.
For everything you could possibly want to read about NFL practice squads, read the NFL's CBA: Article 33.