NFL roster cut weekend is not fun for everyone. In fact, more than 1,000 football players were told this weekend they had been cut by their respective clubs. But, that doesn’t necessarily spell the end of their NFL dream.
For some, failing to make a 53-man roster is merely a setback before the comeback. Every year, the practice squad allows players to keep their professional dreams alive while they continue to work as part of an NFL team. While the pay isn't as good for practice squad guys as it is for players on active rosters and they can't play in live games, life on the practice squad is certainly better than life without a job in the NFL.
Here is everything you need to know about the NFL practice squad in 2017 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 2, 4:00 pm ET. Teams can begin signing players to their practice squads on Sunday, September 3, starting at 1:00 p.m. ET. Most teams will have their practice squads completed and announced by Monday, September 4, which ironically is Labor Day. As soon as roster cuts are made, teams will begin negotiating with the agents of the guys they want on their practice squad, but nothing is final before Sunday at 1:00 p.m.
In most professional sports leagues, getting cut often signals the end of the road with their team, but the NFL offers a chance for redemption via the practice squad. These players are used in practice with their teams. They do not play in games.
Not all players are eligible for a practice squad.
In 2016, the NFL adopted a modification to the practice squad rules that allows up to 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.
Other than those four players, eligibility is limited to players who have been on an active roster for fewer than six games, or were on a 46-man active gameday roster for fewer than nine games.
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 (which every team does).
Practice Squad Salary
Practice squad players earn paychecks on a weekly basis. They’re not getting the far bigger paychecks players on the 53-man roster receive. For the 2017 season, practice squad players can make no less than $7,200 per week, which equates to $122,400 for the season.
To protect players from leaving for other teams, or because they really like the potential of a given player, some teams pay their practice 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.
A practice squad player can sign to another team's active roster at any point, but can't leave for another practice squad unless released from his current team. 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 weeks of paychecks, even if they're released less than three weeks into their stay with that time.
For everything you could possibly want to read about NFL practice squads, read the NFL's CBA: Article 33.
Cincinnati Bengals Projection
As it pertains to the Bengals, a wealth of quality players are in line to earn spots on the practice squad. Among the players firmly on the roster bubble with practice squad eligibility are P.J. Dawson, Tony McRae, Demetrious Cox, Brandon Bell, Brandon Wilson, Jordan Evans, Hardy Nickerson, Marcus Hardison, David Dean, Ryan Brown, Kent Perkins, Alex Redmond, Christian Westerman, J.J. Dielman, Jeff Driskel, Jake Elliott, Mason Schreck, Cethan Carter, Alonzo Russell, Tra Carson and Jarveon Williams.
Here’s our 10-man Bengals practice squad projection:
- S Brandon Wilson (rookie sixth round draft pick)
- S Demetrious Cox (undrafted rookie)
- LB Brandon Bell (undrafted rookie)
- DE Marcus Hardison (fourth round draft pick in 2015)
- DT Josh Tupou (undrafted rookie)
- CB Tony McRae (undrafted in 2016)
- G J.J. Dielman (rookie fifth round draft pick)
- HB Jarveon Williams (undrafted rookie)
- WR Kermit Whitfield (undrafted rookie)
- K Jake Elliott (rookie fifth round draft pick)