The Pittsburgh Steelers somewhat surprisingly signed two veteran-like free agent players in safety Curtis Riley and running back Wendell Smallwood right before training camp got underway and thus both have been competing for potential spots on the team’s 53-man roster. On Wednesday, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert explained the reasoning behind signing those two veteran-like and experienced players and how a new practice squad rule played a part in all of it when he talked to the media.
“When we got the new rules and understanding that up to six veteran players can be part of your practice squad, that changed our thinking,” Colbert said on Wednesday. “Because quite honestly, when we look for players that we call ‘futures’ that we sign in the offseason, if they don’t have practice squad eligibility, we’re a little reluctant to sign those types because either make your team or they don’t.
“With this now a possibility, we decided let’s look for that young veteran, that if he doesn’t make your team, he could be eligible for your practice squad. That was part of the reasons we signed the Curtis Rileys and the Smallwoods because they are that veteran player that is now eligible for a practice squad.”
While Colbert explained the reasoning behind the signings of Riley and Smallwood right before training camp and how both of them would be eligible for the team’s practice squad in 2020, he made sure not to rule out the possibility of one or both ultimately making the 53-man roster.
“Not to say those guys are destined to a practice squad, but at least we have those options,” Colbert said. “So, it is a different world. We’ve tried to expand our thinking along those ways to make sure that the practice squad that we do come up with is the best practice squad it can be.”
As things stand right now with 10 days remaining until all NFL teams will need to have their rosters trimmed down to 53 active players, Riley seems to be in a great spot of making the Steelers Week 1 team. As for Smallwood, however, he’s been sidelined the last several training camp practices with a shoulder injury and thus his chances of making the Week 1 53-man roster aren’t looking great. Perhaps Smallwood will wind up on the Steelers practice squad if ultimately cut and not picked up by another team.
One interesting aspect about the practice squad rules for 2020 that’s worth reemphasizing is that all players on the 16-man unit who have at least three accrued seasons will get $12,000 per week, or $204,000 per season. All players on the practice squad without at least three accrued seasons, however, will get $8,400 per week, or $142,800 for a season. So, the base amount for a team’s 16-man practice squad in 2020 is $2.2848 million while the maximum amount is $2.652 million. The practice squad salaries need to be accommodated in the team’s salary cap as well.