When the owners and players voted on the new CBA earlier this spring, one of the selling points bandied about by the media was the fact that the new agreement included roster expansion. Specifically, teams would be able to carry 55 players rather than 53, with practice squads expanding from 10 players to 12 players.
While it’s true that teams will be able to carry 55 players on the active roster, that expansion is basically only available for game days. Teams will continue to field a 53-player active roster, however, on game days teams will have a new option, which is (bolding added is mine):
Article 33, Section 5
(b) In each game of the regular and postseason, a Club may choose to elevate a maximum of two players from its Practice Squad to its Active/Inactive List without the player first terminating his Practice Squad Player Contract and executing an NFL Player Contract.
(c) If a Practice Squad player is elevated to a Club’s Active/Inactive List, the terms of the Standard Elevation Addendum will be in effect.
(d) Any elevation of a player from a Club’s Practice Squad to its Active/Inactive List must occur no earlier in the week than the final day for such player personnel transactions prior to the game for which the player is being elevated, but not later than the applicable player personnel transaction deadline for that day. Any player who is elevated to a Club’s Active/Inactive List must be listed on the Club’s game-day Active List or Inactive List, as applicable.
(e) Any player who is elevated to a Club’s Active/Inactive List for a regular season or postseason game pursuant to this Section 5 shall automatically revert to the Club’s Practice Squad at 4:00 p.m., New York time, on the first business day following such game without being subject to waivers.
In short, teams can promote two players from the practice squad for each game and then those players will automatically revert to the practice squad without needing to clear waivers. Practice squad players who are elevated to the 53 man roster through such a promotion are paid regular minimum salary based on the number of credited seasons they have, meaning they get regular roster pay for the week. However, while teams can promote two practice squad players per week, there are limitations on how many times each individual player may be promoted.
(f) A Practice Squad player may be elevated to a Club’s Active/Inactive List for a maximum combination of two regular season or postseason games in the same League Year. After a Club has elevated a player to its Active/Inactive List for a maximum combination of two games during the regular season or postseason, any subsequent elevation of the player must be an activation to the Club’s 53-player Active/Inactive List. In such a case, the player must first terminate his Practice Squad Player Contract and execute an NFL Player Contract, and the Club must request waivers on that contract, or terminate the contract if the player is not subject to waivers, before resigning the player to its Practice Squad.
That means that if a team promotes a player from the practice squad twice during the year, if it attempts to do so for a third game, it must follow the old rules of giving the player a new contract, a contract for players on the 53-man roster. Then, once the team no longer requires the services of the player on the 53-man roster, that player must clear waivers prior to returning to the practice squad.
In short, it doesn’t seem all that likely that most teams will burn up their practice squad promotions for the purpose of giving players small raises. Some teams might do so, but the fact that players can only be brought up twice per season seems to make it somewhat risky to promote a player for the purposes of giving them a raise, only to then later find that the player is actually needed on the roster later in the year.
In any case, this brings things to the subject of pay. In years past there has been flexibility in how much teams could pay players on their practice squads. This has been seen from the Seattle Seahawks several times in recent seasons, as they have willingly paid extra to recruit players to their practice squad. Notably, 2018 seventh round draft pick Alex McGough was paid the equivalent of a league minimum salary by Seattle to stay on their practice squad in 2018, while the Houston Texans did the same to retain the services of McGough in 2019.
In addition, perhaps the most famous of former Seattle practice squad players, DeShawn Shead, was paid a league minimum salary to stay on the practice squad rather than accept a promotion to the active roster of another team early in his career. That decision paid off for Shead, and the Seahawks similarly attempted to keep David Moore in 2017 when the Indianapolis Colts attempted to sign him to their 53 man roster. However, Moore was more interested in the 53 man roster spot than simply a pay raise, and it appears that decision will likely prove worthwhile for Moore going forward.
When the Colts attempted to poach Moore off the Seattle practice squad there were six weeks left in the 2017 regular season. Thus, when Moore rebuffed Seattle’s proposal for a raise to stay on the practice squad, the Seahawks had to sign Moore to the 53-man roster in order to keep him. That meant his promotion came on November 22, and Moore earned an accrued season in 2017. Had he simply taken the increase in salary and remained on the practice squad, Moore would have made the exact same amount of money in 2017, however, he would not have earned an accrued season. That means that Moore would currently have only two accrued seasons, rather than the three he currently holds. The difference for Moore between two accrued seasons and three accrued seasons is the difference between having been an exclusive rights free agent this offseason and a restricted free agent. As an exclusive rights free agent, Moore would have had two options: play for the Seahawks in 2020 on a salary of $750,000 in order to be a restricted free agent after the 2020 season or find a different job.
As a result of the way he played things, though, Moore was a restricted free agent this offseason, and is set to play 2020 on the original round tender of $2.133M. In short, by telling the Seahawks to bugger off back in 2017 Moore is set to have earned himself an additional $1,383,000 this season while also setting himself up to hit free agency in 2021 at 26 years of age.
Now, the reason practice squad salaries are of note is that under the new CBA practice squad salaries are non-negotiable. Practice squad salaries for 2020 and 2021 are take it or leave it for all players, while the salaries are subject to maximum and minimum salaries for certain qualified players beginning in 2022.
For those curious of the difference between the two tables, the top table is for players with zero, one or two accrued seasons, while only players with three or more accrued seasons are eligible for the increased salaries of the bottom table.
As noted above, beginning in 2020 teams may have up to 12 players on their practice squads, with the players subject to the following restrictions:
- A maximum of 2 players with 3 or more accrued seasons,
- A maximum of 4 players with 2 or more accrued seasons and
In 2022 the league is set to expand practice squads again to 14 players while also increasing the number of spots in which a team may have a player with 3 or more accrued seasons to four.
Bringing the discussion back to the original two games for which a player may be automatically promoted to the active roster, there are no doubt fans who want to know the reason for this restriction. The answer, is quite simply, it appears players didn’t want to split up their money any further.
Once a player is on the 53 man roster for three games in a given year, they earn a credited season. Credited seasons are not only used to determine minimum salaries for players, they are used to determine retirement benefits. Setting the maximum number of times a player may be promoted at two works to limit the number of players who qualify for post-playing career medical and pension benefits.
That may seem like a small thing, but running the numbers on needing five years of post-playing day medical insurance for players, along with increased minimum salaries in future seasons on top of the requirement to fund the retirement obligations of additional players, and all of a sudden the numbers start to increase quickly.
Putting it all together, while teams will have the ability to expand their game day rosters to 55 in coming seasons, the truth is that the only real roster expansion in the current CBA was of the practice squad. It seems unlikely that teams will be inclined to promote players from the practice squad only for those players to be a healthy scratch early in the year, though later in the season teams could certainly use the tool to gain game film on players on which they’d like to make a decision for future seasons.