So you’re a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers and you’re worried that you’re not going to make the 53-man roster. What’s your next step? Are you eligible for the practice squad, or will it require another team giving you an opportunity on their 53-man roster, even though you haven’t been in camp with them?
You could seek out General Manager Kevin Colbert and ask him whether or not you’re eligible. Or you could continue to read this article.
The only group of players who are universally eligible for the practice squad are rookies. Every rookie in the league is eligible. But the same can’t be said of first-year players. Take your teammate, Matt Feiler, for example. He is a first-year player, having only ever spent two weeks on a 53-man roster, but he is not eligible. Why?
All players have a limit on the number of years that they can spend on the practice squad. Any player otherwise eligible for the practice squad can spend two years there. An accrued season on the practice squad as of last season is six weeks spent there, up previously from three weeks.
You can become eligible for a third season on the practice squad, as Feiler did, as long as the team that you are on consistently carries 53 players on their roster. This is virtually always the case, so is really not much of a concern.
Your newest teammate is an interesting example here, and I will use him multiple times. Dashaun Phillips just squeezes under the qualifications for practice squad eligibility in three key areas.
For one thing, he has accrued (distinguished from credited, which determines your ‘experience’ and is related to pension qualifications) two seasons of NFL experience. As of a few years ago, the league has allowed all players with two or fewer years of accrued NFL seasons who are otherwise eligible for the practice squad to be on there. Previously, only two such ‘veteran’ players were eligible (and in the past, none), but now up to four of the 10 practice squad members can have up to two seasons of accrued experience.
This means that even Bud Dupree and Sammie Coates are eligible for the practice squad. Several years ago, we lost Joe Burnett because he accrued a season of experience his rookie year, and we couldn’t put him on the practice squad a year later. Today, we could have.
But Phillips could have been eligible for the practice squad even if he were heading into his 30th season in the league. Players who spend five or fewer games on the active list during all of their accrued seasons will remain eligible for the practice squad indefinitely as long as they have not already fulfilled their three years. One of our former quarterbacks, Dennis Dixon, found this out a couple of years ago with Baltimore.
For Phillips, he did dress for six games in 2015, so should he accrue another season this year, he will not be eligible for the practice squad next year. And he nearly wasn’t eligible this year, because he accrued practice squad seasons in 2014 and 2015, and spent four weeks on the practice squad last year over two stints. Had he spent two more weeks there, he would not have been eligible.
So if you’re wondering if you’re eligible for the practice squad, you need to answer these questions:
Are you a rookie? If so, then yes, definitely. If not, keep asking questions.
Do you have two or fewer NFL seasons in which you spent six or more games on an NFL roster? If so, then you are eligible as long as you have not already spent three previous seasons on the practice squad.
Are you in your fourth season or beyond, but have never dressed for more than five games in a season? If so, then, as above, you are eligible as long as you haven’t used up your practice squad years.
Remember though, only four ‘veteran’ players are able to be retained at any given time.