clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Explaining how the NFL works, Part 3: The practice squad

Let’s examine the process of some of the inner workings in the NFL and how teams manage the situations.

New York Jets v Pittsburgh Steelers

Whether it’s when the NFL is in the full swing of its regular season or if it’s during the downtime of the early summer, there still is constant news and happenings with the league that has made itself relevant 365 days a year. When various things are discussed, sometimes there are terminologies and procedures where fans might have a general understanding of things. Even the most die-hard fans may have certain areas they don’t understand exactly what various things mean and wish to have a better understanding.

Over the next few weeks, I will take some time to do my best in thoroughly explaining some of the various inner workings of things in the NFL. These are not on-field items but more from an administrative standpoint. Whether it be understanding the waiver wire, the Reserve/Injured List, or the breakdown of the practice squad, we’ll take a look at some of the various terms that are thrown around and utilized in descriptions of things in the NFL but may not be fully understood.

After understanding what it takes to have an accrued season and looking at how waivers work, let’s take a dive into explaining the practice squad.

Before diving into everything with the practice squad, many things changed with how it worked during the 2020 season when the NFL was dealing with the global pandemic. Many of these changes have stuck around. While it is interesting to know how the rules worked before hand, they are not necessary for knowing how things are going forward. Therefore, the focus now will be the practice squad rules for 2023.


Since 2020, NFL practice squad‘s have consisted of 16 players. Although the NFL had initially implemented a gradual input crease in the size of the practice squad, the 2020 season changed everything and the NFL has kept the practice squad at 16 ever since.


There are three different categories of players who are eligible for the practice squad. The first category which used to make up almost the entire allowance of the practice squad are players with no more than one accrued NFL season. Additionally, a player who appeared in more than nine games during that accrued season does not fit into this category. A team can have as many of their 16 players as they choose in this category, but based on the limitations of the other two categories teams must have at least six players who meet this requirement.

The next category of players are ones who have not earned more than two accrued NFL seasons. In this category, there is no requirement for the number of games they played. Teams may have up to 10 players who fit into this category. An example of a player who would fit into this category from the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers practice squad is Cody White. Although he only has one accrued NFL season, White appeared in 15 games in 2021 and therefore does not fit into the first category.

The third category of players on the practice squad is one that began in 2020 and has changed the way teams look at the practice squad. Each team can have as many as six players with unlimited accrued seasons on the practice squad. These players are not in addition to the 10 from the previous category, but are a subset within the category of players with more than one accrued season. In other words, if a team has four players on the practice squad with unlimited accrued seasons, they could have another six that have two accrued seasons.


Any player on a team’s practice squad is free to sign with the 53-man roster of any team. A player cannot be signed off of one team’s practice squad directly onto another team’s practice squad unless they were released. While some think players may want to stay on the practice squad of one team versus being on the 53-man roster of another, the difference in pay is usually too much of a factor to overcome.


Players in the practice squad do not make nearly as much money as those on the 53-man roster. Any player who is in the first two categories outlined above receives $12,000 per week they are on the practice squad in 2023. Players receive pay by being on the practice squad during the time rosters are locked for a game or the same time period over the bye week. If a player is added to the practice squad on Tuesday and released on Friday, they do not receive their weekly paycheck. Based on these totals, a player with two or less accrued seasons on the practice squad for the entire year for the regular season would earn $216,000.

As for the veterans with unlimited accrued seasons, their pay on the practice squad is more and actually falls within a range. The minimum amount for a veteran player each week on the practice squad is $16,100 with a maximum of $20,600 per week. Based on these ranges, a veteran player would earn between $289,800 and $370,800 over the course of the regular season. With the minimum salary in 2023 of a player with no accrued seasons being $750,000, the payout on the practice squad is only a fraction of that on the 53-man roster.

Practice squad elevation

Players on the practice squad can be elevated for single games throughout the regular season or postseason without being subject to the waiver wire in order to revert back to the practice squad the following business day. Each player can be elevated at maximum of three times under this provision. When a player is elevated, they receive the minimum pay for a player with their number of credited seasons. Tams can elevate as many as two players from the practice squad each week under the standard elevation rules.

After a player has three elevations, they must be added to the 53-man roster in order to be eligible to play on game day. If the player is to return to the practice squad, they must pass through waivers. One interesting item is that according to, if the player passes through waivers they are eligible to be elevated for three more games:

Each practice-squad player can be elevated for a maximum of three regular-season games in the same league year. After this, any subsequent elevation of the player will require the team to add him to their 53-man Active/Inactive List. The team must then waive or terminate his player contract before the player can be re-signed to the practice squad. If the player is re-signed to the practice squad this way, the player is again eligible to be elevated for the previously mentioned maximum of three games.

In case you missed other parts of the series, they can be seen here: