Unsung Heroes: Life on an NFL Practice Squad

NFL practice squadWhat about being on NFL practice squad?

Free agency kicked off this year and players such as Olivier Vernon found themselves signing massive contracts with new or old teams. However, there are some players who are free agents year round, and their names rarely ever hit the headlines.

Allen Iverson may disagree, but in general, practice is an important part of every athlete’s career. During the NFL season, players often line up against what are called “practice squads.” Each team has one, and these players serve as the opponents on the testing grounds. They mimic other teams’ schemes and approaches, they offer the players we all know and love a challenge during the week and they take home paychecks as members of the organization. However, these unsung football heroes aren’t discussed very often.

NFL Practice squad eligibility rules

Many players who entered the NFL with hopes of playing during the big games on Sunday end up with the practice squad instead. However, not everyone is allowed on these teams. There are a few eligibility rules such as:

  • Only players who were on an active roster for fewer than six games or…
  • …Players who were on the active gameday roster for fewer than nine games are eligible.
  • Players are only allowed on the practice squad for up to two years.
  • Sometimes a third year is permitted if the team maintains an active-inactive list of 53 players at all times.

Players who don’t make the active roster, and who aren’t willing to head north of the border or elsewhere to play football for a paycheck just yet, may end up on teams’ practice squads.

Life on the NFL practice squad

While athletes on the practice squad won’t end up receiving wages like Vernon next season, they will definitely have livable salaries. The minimum wage for a practice squad player is $6,600 per week. A practice squad player can earn more than $100,000 in a single year.

Unlike most NFL players, these individuals are free agents year-round. While they can’t jump between practice squads, any team can sign one of these players to its active roster at any time. That means even after the season has started, the New York Jets, for example, can sign a player off of the New England Patriots’ practice squad and place him on its active roster. Football players who end up on practice squads who believe they still have a chance to end up on an active roster should be prepared for the fact that any team in the league can sign them, and that they will have to move fairly quickly once that happens.

Incentive to be involved in an NFL practice squad

Practice squad players are very important to their active roster counterparts’ development. For example, Denver Broncos practice squad wide receiver Jordan Taylor worked with Peyton Manning extensively to assist the quarterback’s recovery from injury. Also, players such as Taylor, if they show their coaches progress, have a chance of making the active roster at some point. Arian Foster, a running back most recently on the Houston Texans who is now a free agent, spent time on the practice squad.

If you are on an NFL practice squad, or may soon be, speak with an NFL agent or experienced sports law attorney to learn more.

Otherwise, for more articles related to free agency, check out:

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Anthony R. Caruso is a business transactional attorney in New York and New Jersey with experience in structuring, negotiation and completion of legal deals involving business, entrepreneurs, athletes and performers.

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