NFL Expansion Draft Rules

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The NFL has expanded three times since the early 1990s, when the league instituted a salary cap: in 1995 (when the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars began playing); 1999 (the new Cleveland Browns); and 2002 (the Houston Texans). Each new franchise is stocked through an expansion draft in which it plucks players from other teams under rules spelled out by the league. In recent expansion drafts, the salary cap has been a key consideration.

Listing Players

  • Expansion drafts are held soon after the conclusion of the NFL season. Each team in the league must identify five players from the previous season's roster who are eligible to be claimed in the expansion draft. The five cannot include kickers or punters, any player who is scheduled to become a free agent before the next season, any player with more than 10 years of experience or any player who spent the entire previous year on injured reserve. Since NFL teams have 53-man rosters, the five-player list requirement allows each club to protect 48 players. In the 2002 draft, there were 31 existing NFL teams, which means the Texans had 155 names to choose from.

Picking Players

  • The expansion team inherits the contracts of the players it chooses, including all salaries, bonuses and other monies counted against the salary cap. The team has three minutes to make each pick. It continues to pick players until it has made either a league-mandated number of selections or it has added players with a specified total amount of salary. In 2002, the rules required the Texans to take at least 30 players but no more than 42, or to choose players whose total salary added up to at least 38 percent of the team's salary cap figure for the upcoming season--about $27 million of the $71 million cap. In the end, the Texans took 19 players with about $41.7 million in salary.

Pulling Back

  • When a team has one of its players picked, it has the option of removing one of the remaining four players from its list, although it doesn't have to do so. If it has a second player chosen, it has the option of removing all of its remaining players from consideration, but again, it isn't required to do this. In 2002, the Jaguars and New York Jets each allowed three of their players to be taken. The Baltimore Ravens were the only other team with two players chosen.

Veteran Bonuses

  • Veteran players chosen in the draft get league-mandated bonuses from the expansion team, although these don't count against the salary cap. In 2002, the bonuses were $10,000 for being chosen, $20,000 for reporting to training camp and $30,000 for making the team's active regular-season roster.

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