The practice squad has become more valuable than ever thanks to the NFL expanding its rules in 2020 to help provide roster flexibility during the pandemic. Teams can now carry more players, promote two each week and keep veterans on the practice squad.
In 2021, the rules are essentially the same as they were last year. We break down everything you need to know about the practice squad this season, with teams beginning to assemble them on Wednesday.
Practice squad signing timeline
Teams can begins signing players to the practice squad beginning on Wednesday, Sept. 1 at 4 p.m. ET. Waivers will be processed four hours earlier at noon ET, which will allow teams to sort out which players are still available to be added to the practice squad. If a player is claimed off waivers, he can’t land back on the Rams’ practice squad, of course. So they have to hope guys like Micah Kiser and Earnest Brown IV clear waivers.
Size of each team’s practice squad
The NFL increased the size of each team’s practice squad to 16 players last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, giving teams more roster flexibility. The league is keeping the 16-player limit for 2021, which is great news for both teams and players as they attempt to keep their dreams of playing in the NFL alive. The Rams are participating in the NFL's International Player Development Program, which allows them to carry an international player – in this case, Max Pircher – on the practice squad without Pircher taking up a spot. So they can technically carry 17 total players, including Pircher.
Teams can carry up to six players who have accrued more than two seasons in the NFL, which was a rule change for last year. This allows veterans to be added to the practice squad, providing a wider range of players for teams to sign. Teams can also keep up to four players who have accrued no more than two seasons. The rest of the spots can be filled by players who have not accrued any seasons, meaning they are rookies or were not on the active roster for at least nine games.
Rookies and players who have accrued two or fewer seasons in the NFL will make a minimum of $9,200 per week during the regular season. So if they’re on the practice squad for 18 weeks, they will earn $165,000. Players who have accrued at least three seasons will earn a minimum of $14,000 per week on the practice squad, or $252,000 for the year.
Promoting players for a game
Teams can promote up to two players per week from the practice squad to the active roster, and they will not need to remove a player from the 53-man roster to make room for them. These moves must be made by 4 p.m. ET the day before the game. This makes practice squad players even more valuable because they are eligible to play in games without taking up space on the roster, which wasn’t the case before 2020.
Protecting players from being signed
Teams can protect four players on their practice squad each week, preventing them from being signed by other teams. These spots are obviously reserved for the more valuable players on the practice squad, or specialists like kickers and punters to avoid the possibility of being left without one on game day due to a positive COVID-19 test.