With NFL teams cutting their rosters to 53 players on Tuesday, a term you’ll hear a lot is “practice squad.” It’s been around for years, most football fans are far from what practice equipment is, but few know the ins and outs of how it actually works.
The origins of the practice team are truly incredible and were born out of some creative cheating.
Origins of the soccer 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 hiding a group of players wearing fake jobs for Cleveland’s Yellow Cab. Brown, who was a friend of the owner of the taxi company, made this arrangement and the team would pay the group of reserve players, who had obviously never driven a taxi.
They were nicknamed the “Taxi Squad,” and when word of Brown’s scheme spread, they all started doing it. AFL and NFL teams maintained Taxi Squads, which lasted until 1965, when the NFL finally changed its roster rules to expand teams to 40 players, with an additional unregulated list of players placed on a “Futures List” for teams to extract as needed. .
Over the years, the NFL has adjusted the size of taxi/practice teams, either changing their number or eliminating them altogether, but the true modern practice team was established with the 1993 collective bargaining agreement.
How big is the practice team?
At first, the practice squad was limited to five players, then expanded to 10 in 2014, increased again to 12 in 2020, and now to 16 in 2022.
This is the biggest practice squad the league has had since old-school taxi squads were tracked down.
What do the practice team players do?
As the name says, they are used for practice, but there is a bit more nuance to it than that. Instead of continually rehearsing a team’s plays and formations like a training camp, during the season the scrimmage spends their time learning the plays and trends of the upcoming competition.
Often referred to as the “scout team,” players on the scrimmage play the role of the upcoming opponents during practices. It gives them a chance to hone their basic skills, while helping the 53-man team prepare for the week ahead.
Of course, the practice squad also steps in if there is a major injury or the need for a rotation change, and players can be called up from the squad to the 53-man roster if necessary.
How much do they make?
Unlike actual roster members, scrimmage players don’t make a lot of money by comparison. Players are paid on a weekly basis, rather than an annual salary, and it is based on the number of years the players have been in the league.
Players with two or fewer cumulative seasons of experience will earn $11,500 per week, while veterans with more experience can negotiate a weekly payout of between $15,400 and $19,900.
Are there any restrictions on who can be part of a practice squad?
Yes, and here things get a bit complicated, because once again it is based on experience. Of the 16 players on the scrimmage, a team may have:
- Any number of players who have not accumulated at least nine games in an NFL season.
- Up to four players who have not accumulated more than two seasons in the NFL.
- Up to six players with no experience limitations.
Four players can be protected each week, so they cannot be signed by another team outside of their practice squad. However, any unprotected player can be added to a 53-man roster at any time.
Who are some gems that hid on the practice squad?
There have been high-impact players who started their careers on the practice squad, or worked with teams for a long time before making the 53-man roster.
- danny amendola
- Ariane Foster
- Marshall Brandon
- Jason Peters
- Kurt Warner
These aren’t just decent NFL pros, but some of the biggest names of all time.