In March, a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the NFL and the NFL Players Association established a new salary structure for practice squad players. The new CBA also brought an update to the number of players who can be signed to NFL practice squads among other rule changes.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic changed even more about how NFL practice squads are constructed in 2020.
The minimum salary for NFL practice squad players in 2020 technically is the same as it would have been before the new CBA was ratified. But now NFL practice squad players are split into two groups in terms of how much they are paid so veterans can earn more money.
The pandemic has not impacted the pay scale for NFL practice squad players, but it has changed the amount of players teams can sign to their practice squads. The cancellation of NFL preseason games — and the threat of the virus causing unexpected inactives during the regular season — has made practice squad construction much more important for teams in 2020.
Below is everything to know about NFL practice squads in 2020, including how much practice squad players make and the rules for NFL teams to manage their practice squad rosters.
How much do NFL practice squad players make?
As laid out in the new CBA, there are two salary scales for practice squad players, one for players with two or fewer accrued seasons (the majority of practice squad players) and one for everybody else.
The first group of practice squad players — rookies, players with fewer than nine regular-season games during their only accrued season(s) and players who have earned no more than two accrued seasons — are paid on a fixed weekly salary that increases in each year of the current CBA.
Below are the fixed weekly salaries for most NFL practice squad players.
The second group basically consists of veterans; the NFL defines them as players with no limitations as to their number of earned accrued seasons. Teams in 2020 are allowed to keep up to six of these players on their 16-man practice squads.
These practice squad players receive a fixed weekly salary within the following minimum and maximum amounts over the duration of the current CBA.
Practice squad player contracts do not provide for salary guarantees, bonuses, incentives or any compensation beyond the amounts above.
If a practice squad player is promoted to the active roster for a game, his weekly salary will be adjusted to 1/17 of the minimum annual salary for players with his number of accrued seasons.
Most NFL practice squad players are given help to find living situations, but not money. Per the CBA, if a team signs a player to its practice squad and he does not already live in the area, the team “shall make best efforts to provide the player an option for short-term, month-to-month housing at the player’s expense.”
NFL practice squad rules
The CBA that the NFL and the NFL Players Association agreed upon in the spring increased the size of practice squad rosters from 10 players to 12 players for 2020. (It will increase again to 14 in 2022). That was before the COVID-19 outbreak reached the United States and started impacting sports operations.
Because positive coronavirus test results among NFL players are all but inevitable, it’s reasonable to anticipate more players missing games than usual in 2020. So the league agreed to expand practice squad rosters to 16 players, including six veterans (unlimited number of accrued seasons) rather than two, for this season.
Below are the players who are eligible to be added to practice squad rosters:
A player on a practice squad is free to sign with another team at any point, but a team that signs a player from another’s practice squad must add the player to its 53-man roster. There are no practice squad-to-practice squad transactions.
While that’s still the rule in 2020, during the pandemic, teams are allowed to protect up to four practice squad players each week from other teams.
Another new, pre-pandemic rule for 2020 as laid out by the CBA: Teams are allowed to promote one or two players from their practice squads to increase their rosters from 53 players to 55 players on game days. Any practice squad player promoted in such a way would revert to the practice squad roster after the game.
Previously, any practice squad player elevated to the active roster had to have his practice squad contract terminated and replaced by an NFL player contract. That’s still the case for any player promoted from the practice squad to the active roster on a permanent basis.
The NFL also established new practice squad rules that account for potential COVID-19 outbreaks on active rosters. If a practice squad player is elevated to the active roster because his team was given roster exemptions “due to confirmed or suspected cases of a contagious disease among its players,” then the player won’t be required to sign an active player contract. He will automatically revert to the practice squad after the game without going through waivers.
Note: The official language for all NFL practice squad rules, including a complete salary breakdown, can be found in Article 33 of the CBA.
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