In the spring, NFL teams may have as many as 90 players. During the summer, players get cut as the season draws near and the team readies its final 53-man roster. Those who don't make the cut may still have a chance with the team's practice squad -- a group of players who don't play in games but practice with the team each week.
Practice Squad Organization
Under the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement that runs through 2020, each team may carry an eight-man practice squad, along with one additional international player whose citizenship and primary residence are overseas. Following an August 2014 agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA, teams may add two more players to their practice squads for the 2014 and 2015 NFL seasons. Practice squad players can't play in games unless called up to the game day roster, but do practice with the team each week. Many NFL teams use the practice squad to give younger players who show potential, but haven't yet earned a place on the active roster, a chance to further hone their skills.
Generally, the NFL allows players to serve on a team's practice squad for two years -- three if the team maintains a full 53-man roster at all times during that player's tenure. A player has played a year on a practice squad if he's played at least three weeks during a season. The two additional practice squad players allowed during 2014 and 2015 must play at least six weeks for that season to count as a year of practice squad service. Additionally, a player who's played one season on a team's active roster is ineligible to be a practice squad member, unless in that year he played fewer than nine games. The two additional players may have played as many as two seasons on the active roster.
Practice Squad Salaries
The minimum salary for a practice squad player in 2014 was $6,300 per week. The CBA provides for this salary to increase every year. Through 2017, the minimum increases by $300 a week. However, teams can and do pay practice squad players well above the minimum to keep promising players with their organization, despite the fact that practice squad salaries count towards the team's salary cap. If their team makes the playoffs, practice squad players continue to earn the same pay during postseason as they did in regular season. Practice squad salaries aren't guaranteed, and teams remain free to cut a practice squad player at any time without penalty.
Moving Off Practice Squad
Since practice squad players don't have a guaranteed contract, they can negotiate with other teams at any time. The only thing practice squad players cannot do is move from the practice squad directly to another team's practice squad. Likewise, other teams can sign practice squad players with no restrictions or penalties, as long as they put the player on their active roster. Practice squad players also can be brought up to their team's active roster at any time. The only exception occurs if a practice squad player happens to be negotiating with the opposing team in his team's next game. In that case, negotiations must cease five days before the game, or nine days prior on a bye week.
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