One aspect of NFL roster cuts in 2020 technically will be easier for coaching staffs. Training camp rosters during the COVID-19 pandemic consist of 80 players rather than the typical maximum of 90, so that's 10 fewer players each team needs to cut in order to trim their rosters down to 53 before the Sept. 5 deadline.
Everything else about NFL roster cuts ahead of the 2020 season is an unprecedented challenge.
NFL preseason games in 2020 were canceled and replaced by an extended training camp schedule ahead of the Sept. 10 regular-season opener. Which is not ideal for the players who typically use those preseason games as proving grounds for roster spots, or for the coaches who use them as evaluation tools. Instead, NFL teams will cut 800-plus players ahead of the deadline based on their performances in full-contact practices and intersquad scrimmages.
The good news for the players who get cut in 2020 is they will have more chances to land on the practice squads of either their own teams or others. The NFL agreed to expand practice squad rosters from 12 to 16 in 2020 to account for the possibility of positive COVID-19 tests throughout the season keeping players off the field.
Per the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, NFL teams in 2020 also will be able to expand their rosters to 55 players (48 active) on game day by temporarily promoting players from their practice squads.
All of this will be taken into account when NFL teams make their final cuts as Week 1 nears. Below are more details about the deadline for NFL roster cuts and the rules for practice squad construction.
When are NFL roster cuts in 2020?
- Roster cuts deadline: Saturday, Sept. 5
- Deadline time: 4 p.m. ET
NFL teams are free to cut players whenever they want, but when the deadline of 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, Sept. 5 arrives, all 32 rosters must consist of no more than 53 players on the active/inactive list. (Teams already had to trim their training camp rosters to a maximum of 80 players by Aug. 16.)
Prior to 2017, teams worked through multiple roster cut deadlines throughout the preseason to trim their personnel. Then the league's owners voted to create the format still used today — one deadline to trim rosters to 53 players upon the conclusion of the preseason.
In 2020, of course, there is no preseason, but the lone roster cuts deadline remains the same as originally scheduled. It lands a week before the start of the regular season.
NFL roster cuts rules
In part because there are no preseason games, many teams will have already made the majority of their pre-deadline roster moves and won't have to cut 27 players at once.
Below is the NFL's official language on the Sept. 5 roster cuts deadline:
"Prior to 4 p.m., New York time, clubs must reduce rosters to a maximum of 53 players on the Active/Inactive List. ... Simultaneously with the cut-down to 53, clubs that have players in the categories of Active/Physically Unable to Perform or Active/Non-Football Injury or Illness must select one of the following options: place player on Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform or Reserve/NonFootball Injury or Illness, whichever is applicable; request waivers; terminate contract; trade contract; or continue to count the player on the Active List."
There will be a claiming period for the players who are placed on waivers during roster cut-downs, but that period will expire at noon ET on Sunday, Sept. 6.
An hour after that claiming period ends, teams will be able to begin constructing their 16-player practice squads. Below is the full schedule for NFL roster cuts/construction.
|Aug. 16||Deadline to cut training camp rosters to 80 players|
|Sept. 5||4 p.m. ET deadline to cut rosters to 53 players|
|Sept. 6||Waiver claim period after cuts ends at noon ET|
|Sept. 6||Teams can begin signing practice squad players at 1 p.m. ET|
|Sept. 10||Top 51 rule expires|
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.
Below are the players who are eligible to be added to practice squad rosters:
- Players who do not have an accrued season of NFL experience (rookies)
- Players who were on the active list for fewer than nine regular-season games during their only accrued season(s)
- Up to four players per team who have earned no more than two accrued seasons (no game limitations)
- Up to two (six in 2020) players per team with no limitations as to their number of earned accrued seasons
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.
NFL practice squad salaries
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.
|Year||Minimum weekly salary||Maximum weekly salary|
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.