As NFL teams prepare to cut down their rosters, an important element for NFL GMs is intelligent use of the 8-man practice squad. Eligibility rules for practice squads can be pretty confusing, so here is something to help. In plain English, here is an explanation of (eligibility and signing) NFL practice squad rules.
NFL PRACTICE SQUAD RULES:
A player earns an Accrued Season if he is on the team’s 53-man roster, Injured Reserve (IR), or Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) for 6 or more games in any one season. Players on practice squad or PUP / non-football related injury list do not accrue an NFL season.
a) If a player has been on a team’s practice squad for three regular season or playoff games during their first or second year on the practice squad, that counts as a season on the Practice Squad.
b) If a player has been on a team’s practice squad for one regular season or playoff game during their third year on the practice squad, that counts as a season on the Practice Squad.
c) a bye week counts as a week on the practice squad as long as the player remains on the practice squad for the entire bye weekend.
Players can be on the practice squad a maximum of three years, but certain conditions must apply to allow a third year.
Eligibility for players in their first or second year in the NFL:
Players who do not have an accrued season in the NFL (in other words, rookies are automatically eligible).
Players with one year NFL experience who were active for less that nine regular season games.
Eligibility for players in their third year in the NFL:
They have to meet the requirements above, plus, their team has to have at least 53 players on it’s roster for the entire time he is on the practice squad. (I imagine this means if a team releases a player during the week and decided not to replace him on the roster, any 3rd year practice squad players would no longer be eligible.)
Signing with other clubs:
Any player on a practice squad is completely free to negotiate with any other team to be signed to their 53-man roster without his new team having to give any form of compensation to his former team. A player can’t be signed from one team’s practice squad to another team’s practice squad. The newly signed player counts against his new team’s 53-man roster for three weeks, even if he is released and signed to another teams 53-man roster or practice squad.
A player may not sign with his current teams next opponent after 4PM EST of the sixth day before their game. This of course, is to prevent teams from signing their next opponent’s practice squad players to gather “inside information.” (If it’s a bye week, the limit is extended to 10 days.)
If you want to look up other details of practice squad rules (such as salary rules and some special provisions), here is a link to the full CBA document. The practice squad section starts on page 160.
If you want a shortcut to read the practice squad legalese, here it is:
Section 2. Signing With Other Clubs:
(a) Any player under contract to a Club as a Practice Squad player shall be
completely free to negotiate and sign a Player Contract with any Club at any time during
the League Year, to serve as a player on any Club’s Active or Inactive List, and any Club
is completely free to negotiate and sign such a Player Contract with such player, without
penalty or restriction, including, but not limited to, Draft Choice Compensation between
Clubs or First Refusal Rights of any kind, or any signing period, except that such player
shall not be permitted to sign a Player Contract with another Club to serve as a Practice
Squad player while under contract as a Practice Squad player.
(b) Notwithstanding Subsection (a) above, a Practice Squad player may not
sign an NFL Player Contract with his Club’s next opponent later than 4:00pm, New
York time, on the sixth day preceding the game (except in bye weeks, when the prohibi
tion commences on the tenth day preceding the game) . When the current employer club
has a bye the weekend before the game against the Club signing the Practice Squad play
er to an NFL Player Contract, such contract must be executed prior to 4:00pm, New
York time, on the 1 0th day preceding the game.
Section 4. Eligibility:
(a) The Practice Squad shall consist of the following players, provided that
they have not served more than two previous seasons on a Practice Squad: (i) players
who do not have an Accrued Season of NFL experience; and (ii) free agent players who
were on the Active List for fewer than nine regular season games during their only Ac
crued Season(s). An otherwise eligible player may be a Practice Squad player for a third
season only if the Club by which he is employed that season has at least 53 players on its
Active/Inactive List during the entire period of his employment.
(b) A player shall be deemed to have served on a Practice Squad in a season
if he has passed the club’s physical and been a member of the club’s Practice Squad for
at least three regular season or postseason games during his first two Practice Squad
seasons, and for at least one regular season or postseason game during his third Practice
Squad season. (For purposes of this Section, a bye week counts as a game provided that
the player is not terminated until after the regular season or postseason weekend in ques