If you have even spent a little bit of attention to final roster cuts for the past few years, you have heard about the practice squad.
In previous seasons, this was a way to retain up to 10 players who hadn’t yet accrued two more than two seasons in the NFL. These players are given special contracts that pay them weekly, and their positions were far less secure than players who made the 53-man roster.
In February, the NFL and NFLPA agreed to a new CBA that made some changes to how the practice squad would operate, but they also recently agreed on further changes in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic still continuing to hold strong.
For the sake of this, we will be covering how the practice squad will operate in 2020 for the Bengals and the rest of the NFL with their being question marks about how things could possibly change in 2021.
16 total players
Previously the practice squad was capped at 10, but the change to 16 was an important one with the state of the country. This allows a team to have more options as far as a last second replacement in the case of an injury or a player testing positive for COVID-19.
These players will also be rigorously tested, so it allows the team to feel better about replacing a player without worrying about waiting to see if one of the players they are looking at has COVID-19. This also just allows more players to have jobs during this time.
More flexibility with activation; Still restrictions
Teams can now activate a player from their practice squad up until they announce their inactives for the game on game day. Teams also do not need to elevate a player from the practice squad to their active roster in order for them to suit up for the game. They can do this with up to two players on the practice squad per week. The important caveat there is that a team can’t do this with the same player two weeks in a row, and they can only have a player play like this twice total during a season.
The reason for this restriction is because practice squad players make less money than players on the 53-man roster. This prevents teams from taking advantage and routinely activating the same player off the practice squad.
This is still a useful thing for teams despite it being so limited. Previously, a team would have to activate a practice squad player to the roster in order to have them be on the active roster for game day. Then, if the team wanted that player back on their practice squad, they would have to waive them and hope they make it through waivers without being claimed. Team may still activate players like this if they need them for multiple weeks.
The obvious example for how this would be used is if a player has a minor injury or test positive and may only miss one week, a team wouldn’t have to sign someone off the street or worry about losing a valuable practice squad player to cover for them.
This year, teams may opt to protect up to four players on their practice squad starting on Tuesday each week. That means other teams can not poach those players on the practice squad until Sunday after the games or Monday. It isn’t clear how this will work with teams who play on Monday Night at the moment. The main point is those players become very hard to take off practice squads.
The way a team can sign another player from an opposing practice squad appears to be unchanged. Another team can sign a player from an opposing practice squad to their 53-man roster at any point as long as they aren’t protected. It would probably also depend on the player passing a COVID-19 test. That may be very rare this year as many teams may not need to do that as often with their own extended practice squads and the risks of bringing in outside players.
Up to six players may be on a practice squad without worrying about how many seasons they have accrued. This is a pretty significant change. Previously, the 10 players couldn’t have more than two seasons accrued. This made it so teams were either forced to sign these players going into their third season or allow them to stick on elsewhere. It was a practice that may have ended more NFL dreams than continued them.
That restriction still exists for 10 of the players on the practice squad, but now those extra six players can be veterans if a team so chooses.
Practice squad players will make $8,400 per week or $134,400 for 16 games. Veteran players with over two years of experience will make $12,000 per week or $192,000 for 16 games.
Getting on the practice squad
This seems to be unchanged. Following final cuts on September 5th at 4 P.M. Eastern time, players will either be placed on waiver or become unrestricted free agents. Once waivers have been completed, teams may start constructing their 16-man practice squad. Players can not officially become members of a practice squad until after the waiver process has been completed.