In most cases, transactions involving players on an NFL practice squad are often footnotes. They usually involve players being called up from the practice squad the evening before a game in case a position group is woefully thin due to injury.
Practice squad salaries are predictably much less than players who earn much more on the big club, but players can be important during the week to simulate opposing team’s game plans. Let’s take a closer look at NFL practice squads and how they operate.
How does the NFL practice squad work?
The practice squad is a group that is separate and distinct from the active roster on each NFL game day. The number of players allowed on an NFL practice squad has been a shifting number since the pandemic began. The league allowed as many as 16 players on a practice squad in 2020, and that number could remain the same in 2021 if virus related regulations regarding positive tests and close contacts are kept. Without COVID protocols, the limit of practice squad players is supposed to be set at 12 for the upcoming season.
Additionally, practice squad players are generally only supposed to be young guys who teams are trying to develop. Baked into the larger maximum set at 12 for regular NFL seasons, teams are only allowed to have 2 players with an unlimited amount of NFL experience. All other players on the practice squad need to have less than 2 seasons of accrued NFL tenure. As such, teams cannot sign an unlimited number of veteran players to their practice squad to gain a competitive advantage.
Do practice squad players travel with the team?
NFL practice squad players are not allowed to travel with their team to road games. Even though they put in the same work during the week as players on the active roster (and sometimes more), they’ll watch road games from the same places many fans would; the comfort of their couches at home.
When the team is playing a home game, practice squad players are allowed into the stadium, but they cannot be present on the sidelines. They are required to watch games from the locker room, or the stands.
Probably the most high profile practice squad call up was Kendall Hinton being promoted to the active roster for the Denver Broncos. By trade, Hinton was a wide receiver for Denver, but some special circumstances arose ahead of the team’s Week 12 game against the New Orleans Saints. All three of the Broncos’ quarterbacks were deemed ineligible for the game due to testing positive for COVID or being a close contact.
As such, the team needed to get creative to find their starting quarterback for that game. Hinton played quarterback during his college days at Wake Forest, and this was enough of a resume for him to get the fill-in nod for that contest.
How much do practice squad players earn?
Players on an NFL practice squad earn a minimum of $8,400 for each week of the NFL season. However, they are not signed to guaranteed contracts, and are not guaranteed future weekly salary if they are cut from the team. For example, if running back Joe Smith is on the practice squad for the Las Vegas Raiders for the first three weeks of the NFL season, he’ll make a minimum of $25,200. However, if he’s cut by the subsequent Tuesday before Week 4, he’s not due any additional money. If Smith is not able to sign with the practice squad of another team, or on a 53 man roster throughout the league, that would be the entirety of what he earns that year in the NFL.
However, the $8,400 compensation per week is the minimum, meaning that teams can pay a player more at their discretion. Sometimes a franchise will fork over more than the minimum if they really value a player’s contribution or see something positive in his development.
Even though players are on the practice squad for one team, they can be signed away to another team’s active roster at any time. That’s definitely the goal for every practice squad player, since it is tough to live week to week without any guarantees about what the future might hold from an earnings perspective.
For more on the intricate workings of the NFL, check out our NFL explained section.