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NFL Practice Squads: Eligibility, pay, playing on gameday and more to know

All the need-to-know info about how an NFL practice squad is formed and maintained.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Miami Dolphins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

NFL roster cutdown week is an exciting time for NFL fans, but an always stressful time for the players. As clubs callously reduced their rosters, countless young players hit the waiver wire, awaiting to see where their NFL career takes them next.

For many of them, they’ll end up right back where they were on the practice squad of their original team. The practice squad got a makeover last year due to COVID-19, and all of those revisions are here to stay for now.

Clubs have to wait until waiver claims are made, but once those claims are processed at 4:00 p.m. EST Wednesday, the Cincinnati Bengals and everyone else can begin assembling their initial practice squad. Before that happens, let’s review some of those rule changes from last season.

Editor’s note: 12:00 p.m. EST is when waiver claims need to be finalized

How big can the practice squad be?

16 is the new maximum size for an NFL practice squad. Starting last year, the NFL upped the size from its original maximum of 10 players to 12 in accordance with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. They later increased it to 16 for COVID purposes, and it seems like 16 will the number going forward.

More practice squad players means there’s more players sticking around on teams. Clubs can still poach players from other practice squads, but every team can protect up to four practice squad players per week to ensure they stick around.

Who is eligible for the practice squad?

Technically, everyone.

Prior to 2020, the only eligible players were rookies and players who were never active for more than nine games during their only accrued seasons. If a team wants to fill out their 16-man squad with just these players, they’re more than welcome to do that. But starting last year due to COVID, they’re also allowed to have a certain number of vested veterans as well.

Back by popular demand, teams can carry up to six players with no limitations as to their number of earned accrued seasons.

This means the Bengals can have up to six veteran players with multiple accrued seasons practicing with them during the week. Hell, they can even bring back Mike Daniels as one of them if he doesn’t catch on somewhere else.

Can practice squad players play?

In the case of injuries to active roster players, or potential COVID issues, teams can elevate up to two practice squad players to the active roster before 4 p.m. ET the day before their scheduled game. They can do this without having to remove players from the active roster, which gives them the opportunity to have 55 players to pick from on game day.

They’re still required to list seven as inactives, though, so no more than 48 active players per week.

In the event of a late positive COVID test result, teams can also elevate an additional practice squad player within 90 minutes before kickoff.

Practice squad players that are elevated to the active roster revert back to the practice squad the following day.

Can they change teams?

Practice squad players are eligible to sign with other NFL teams, but only if they are signed to the 53-man roster. There are no practice squad-to-practice squad moves allowed.

How much do practice squad players get paid?

Not a whole lot compared to their teammates on the active roster. For those with no more than two accrued seasons, their weekly salaries this year will be $9,200, non-guaranteed.

As for the potential six players with more experience, their minimum salary is a bit higher at $14,000. Both figures are expected to progressively increase during the life of the current CBA.

If any practice squad player gets elevated to the active roster for a week, they will receive a proration of the NFL’s minimum salary for a player of his number of accrued seasons. The minimum salary for a rookie this year is $660,000, so if a rookie is on the active roster for a week, he will receive a check worth $36,667.

Needless to say, elevation for practice squad players is big.