It’s that time of year again. NFL teams have worked hard to reduce their roster from 90 to 53 in a matter of weeks, which means around 1,184 players will be looking for work.
As disappointing as it can be to be cut, it’s often not the end of the line. Each NFL team takes with it a practice squad of players who are not on the active roster but are training, preparing, and, yes, training with the 53-player roster. These units provide key depth to teams and allow young players to hone their craft while working with NFL teams.
The rules around the practice squad used to be complex, but in recent seasons the NFL has relaxed them a bit to create more opportunities for a wider variety of players. The main focus of these units is still to develop young talent, but the league has made room for veterans as part of its relatively new system.
What are the training team rules for 2021? And who is eligible to be a part of it? Here’s everything you need to know about practice teams as NFL teams prepare to form them again.
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How many players can be on an NFL practice team?
For the second year in a row, NFL teams will be allowed to carry 16 players to their practice teams in 2021. Previously, practice team sizes were limited to just 10 players. Initially, the league was planning an expansion of the training squad to 12 players in 2020 (with a second expansion to 14 coming in 2022), but it has increased the allocation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 16-player practice squad provided teams with roster flexibility and an opportunity to keep more players up to date with the system. This has proven to be crucial during the COVID-impacted campaign, and as such, the league has kept the training squad size at 16 for 2021.
Who is eligible for an NFL practice team?
There are a few training rules related to duty time.
Players on NFL practice teams generally fall into the following categories. They are:
- Players who do not have an accumulated season of NFL experience (rookies)
- Players who were on the active roster for less than nine regular season games in their only accumulated season (s)
NFL teams have no limit on how many of these players can be on the practice squad. However, teams are also allowed to keep a handful of slightly more experienced players. These rules were added recently to allow teams to keep veteran talent and depth off the active roster.
There are however limits on these players, which are as follows:
- Up to four players per team who have not won more than two cumulative seasons (no game limitation)
- Up to six players per team with no limitation on the number of accumulated seasons won
That’s why some recognizable players, like Josh McCown and Theo Riddick, have spent time on practice teams in recent seasons. Teams now have the flexibility to keep them in place without using active list points.
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Can players on the practice team play in games?
Only two players from the practice team will be eligible to play in NFL games on a weekly basis. NFL teams are allowed to promote two players in the list of active players for game days in order to expand the list of game days to 55. This can happen any time before the official list of assets / inactive is posted 90 minutes before the game.
However, the other 14 players will not be on the active roster and therefore will not be able to play. And NFL teams don’t have to promote practice squad players either, so they can choose to keep their game lists at 53. Only 48 players are active for NFL games.
Can players on the training team sign with other teams?
Players on the practice team are eligible to sign with other NFL teams, but only if they are signed into another team’s 53-player roster. There is no training squad to train for squad transactions.
NFL teams can also add their own practice team players to their 53-player roster. They just have to open up a place to do it.
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How Much Do NFL Practice Team Players Get Paid?
There are two salary ranges for NFL practice teams. The first group is made up of rookies and players with two or less cumulative seasons. The second is for NFL veterans with no limit to the seasons they have accumulated.
The first group is expected to be paid $ 9,200 per week in 2020. This represents an increase from $ 8,400 per week in 2020 and will continue to increase each year for the duration of the CBA agreement of the NFL and the NFLPA in 2030.
Below are the weekly salaries for players with two or less cumulative seasons through 2030.
|2021||9 200 $|
|2022||11 500 $|
|2023||12 000 $|
|2024||12 500 $|
|2025||13 000 $|
|2026||13 750 $|
|2027||14 500 $|
|2028||15 250 $|
|2029||16 000 $|
|2030||16 750 $|
The second group is paid more than the first group, as these players often have a lot of NFL experience under their belt. Right now, every player receives a fixed weekly salary, but from 2022 their salaries will be in a negotiable price range.
Here is an overview of these contractual values until 2030.
|Year||Minimum weekly wage||Maximum weekly salary|
|2021||14 000 $||14 000 $|
|2022||15 400 $||19 900 $|
|2023||16 100 $||20 600 $|
|2024||16 800 $||21 300 $|
|2025||17 500 $||22 000 $|
|2026||18 350 $||22 850 $|
|2027||19 200 $||23 700 $|
|2028||20 050 $||24 550 $|
|2029||20 900 $||25 400 $|
|2030||21 750 $||26 250 $|
Practice team contracts do not include guaranteed salaries, bonuses or incentives. They relate entirely to the weekly check.
That said, if a player is promoted to the active roster for match day, they will receive a prorated reduction in the minimum annual salary for a player with their accumulated seasons. In 2020, it was 1/17 of the minimum. It looks likely to drop to 1/18 of the minimum in 2021 due to the NFL‘s shift to a 17-game, 18-week schedule.