Practice squads are an important part of each NFL team. They provide teams with a place to develop young players. They also give younger players a way to work their way up to NFL teams. However, most people don’t pay attention to them until their team calls up a player from the practice squad to replace an injured star.
Here is what you should know about NFL practice squads:
Why is there a practice squad?
Each NFL roster has 53 players. Of those 53 players, only 46 can be active for a game. While that seems like a lot of players, it isn’t that much. Each team needs to have 11 players on the field at all times. This means 11 offensive players and 11 defensive players. Teams also have to carry specialists like a kicker, punter, and long snapper. Teams also need backups for their offensive and defensive players and players that can play special teams.
All these considerations mean that roster spots are at a premium. Teams do not carry backup specialists and often times do not carry one backup for each starter (for example, teams have five starting linemen and often only have three backups for the five spots).
Making this more difficult are injuries. For lengthy injuries, teams can put a player on injured reserve. However, for injuries that last a few weeks, the team has to keep the player on the roster. With the physical nature of professional football, these types of injuries are common for every team
As a result, there isn’t much room for a team to keep developmental players. Some developing players (like high draft pick quarterbacks) are worth keeping on the roster because they may play quickly. But a team probably won’t keep a raw seventh-round receiver on the roster.
Practice squads help solve this problem. They provide a place for young players with a chance to develop. They also allow teams to stash players that may need to be called up during the year to replace injured or ineffective players.
Each team can assign 10 players to their practice squad. These players can practice with the team but are not eligible to play in a game. Since the practice squad exists to help develop younger players, only certain players can be assigned to the practice squad.
A team can have up to four players who have spent two accrued years on a practice squad. At least six must have less than two accrued years on a practice squad. A player is considered to have one year of accrued practice squad experience when they have spent at least six games in a season on a practice squad. A player cannot be on a practice squad for more than three accrued seasons.
Practice squad players are required to make at least $8,000 a year, though there is no limit on how much a team can pay them. If a player is on the practice squad for an entire year, they will make $136,000.
Teams do not have exclusive rights to practice squad players. Any other NFL team can offer a practice squad player a spot on their 53-man roster. As a result, teams may choose to keep a player on their 53-man roster to avoid the player being poached by another team.
A player signed off a practice squad must stay on a 53-man roster for at least three weeks. They must be paid at the minimum NFL salary, which starts at $480,000 a season and goes up with experience.
Famous practice squad players
While many practice squad players who make the NFL become solid contributors for their teams, a few have become stars. James Harrison started as a practice squad player for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and ended up winning two Super Bowls and becoming Defensive Player of the Year in 2008.
Rod Smith began his career as a practice squad player with the Denver Broncos, and ended it with two Super Bowls and a place in the Hall of Fame. Former Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall also started his career on the practice squad and won a Super Bowl as the Broncos starting outside linebacker.