With NFL teams cutting down their rosters to 53 players on Tuesday, a term you’re going to be hearing about a lot is the “practice squad.” It’s been around for years, most football fans are away of what the practice squad is — but few know the ins and outs of how it actually works.
The origins of the practice squad are actually incredible, and were born from some creative cheating.
Origins of the football practice squad
First used by legendary coach Paul Brown with the Cleveland Browns in 1946, Brown subverted AAFC salary rules for a 33-man roster by stashing a group of players using fake jobs for Yellow Cab of Cleveland. Brown, who was friends with the owner of the cab company, made this arrangement and the team would pay the reserve group of players — who obviously never drove a cab.
They were dubbed the “Taxi Squad,” and when word spread of Brown’s scheme, everyone started doing it. Teams around the AFL and NFL kept Taxi Squads, which lasted until 1965 when the NFL finally changed its roster rules to expand teams to 40 players, with an unregulated additional list of players placed on a “Futures List” for teams to pull from as needed.
Over the years the NFL has tweaked the size of Taxi/Practice Squads, either modifying their numbers or eliminating them all together — but the true, modern Practice Squad was established with the 1993 collective bargaining agreement.
How big is the practice squad?
At first the practice squad was limited to five players, then expanded to 10 in 2014, increased again to 12 in 2020 and now 16 in 2022.
This is the largest practice squad the league has had since there was tracking past the old school taxi squads.
What do practice squad players do?
As the name says, they’re used for practice — but there’s a little more nuance than that. Rather than continually practicing a team’s plays and formations as if it was training camp, during the season the practice squad spend their time learning the plays and tendencies of the upcoming competition.
Often referred to as the “scout team,” the practice squad players play the role of the upcoming opponents during practices. It gives them an opportunity to hone their basic skills, while assisting the 53 man team in preparation for the upcoming week.
Of course, the practice squad also steps up if there’s a significant injury or a need for a rotational change, with players being able to be called up from the squad to the 53-man roster if needed.
How much do they make?
Unlike true roster members, practice squad players aren’t making much money by comparison. Players are paid week-to-week, rather than a yearly salary — and it’s based on the number of years players have been in the league.
Players with two or less accrued seasons of experience will make $11,500 per week, while veterans with more experience can negotiate a weekly pay of between $15,400 and $19,900.
Are there any restrictions on who can be put on a practice squad?
Yes, and it’s here things get a little complicated, because once again it’s based on experience. Out of the 16 players on the practice squad a team can have:
- Any number of players who have not accrued at least nine games in an NFL season.
- Up to four players who have accrued no more than two NFL seasons.
- Up to six players with no limitations on experience.
Four players can be protected each week, so they can’t be signed by another team off their practice squad. However, any unprotected player may be signed to a 53 man roster at any time.
Who are some gems who were stashed on the practice squad?
There have been so serious impact players who began their career on the practice squad, or who worked with teams for a long time before finding their way to the 53 man roster.
- Danny Amendola
- Arian Foster
- Brandon Marshall
- Jason Peters
- Kurt Warner
These aren’t just decent NFL pros, but some of the biggest names of all time.