In sports, the practice squad, also called the taxi squad or practice roster, is a group of players signed by a team but not part of their main roster. Frequently used in gridiron football, they serve as extra players during the team's practices, often as part of the scout team by emulating an upcoming opponent's play style. Because the players on the practice squad are familiar with the team's plays and formations, the practice squad serves as a way to develop inexperienced players for promotion to the main roster. In addition, it provides replacement players for the main roster when players are needed as the result of injuries or other roster moves, such as bereavement leave.
During the 1940s, Cleveland Browns coach Paul Brown invented the "taxi squad," a group of promising scouted players who did not make the roster but were kept on reserve. The team owner, Arthur "Mickey" McBride, put them on the payroll of his taxi company, although they did not drive cabs. The name stuck, and the practice of retaining a squad of ready reserves spread throughout professional football. However, the National Football League (NFL) did not officially recognize the existence of taxi squads until February 18, 1965. On that date, the NFL team owners formally adopted a 40-man active roster supplemented by a taxi squad of unregulated size, which was officially termed the "future list." Over the next few seasons, the NFL gradually limited the allowable number of inactive players to seven, and regulations were established in relation to injured reserve and waiver practices. In 1974, the NFL eliminated the taxi squad altogether, moving the seven inactive spots into an expanded 47-man active roster. Beginning in 1977, a more limited inactive system was introduced (often consisting of either two or four players, depending on the season), and these players were sometimes referred to as taxi squad members. The NFL has since reintroduced larger reserve squads, now known as "practice squads."
National Football League
Starting in 2017, each NFL team may keep up to ten members on its practice squad in addition to the 53-member main roster. A majority of those on a practice squad are rookie draft picks and undrafted free agents who were released prior to the regular season. A practice squad also includes veterans, up to four as of the 2016 season. Players may be signed to a practice squad for several reasons: for lack of space on the team, due to injury, or because they require more development. Practice squad players can be signed to any team's 53-man active roster, without compensation to their former team, at any time during the season.
A player cannot participate on the practice squad for more than three seasons; he is eligible for a third season only if the team has at least 53 players on its active/inactive list for the duration of that player's employment, or have no prior accrued seasons in the NFL (an accrued season is six or more games on the active roster); or if he has accrued a year of NFL experience on a club's 53-man active roster. If the player was on the active list for fewer than nine games during their "only accrued season(s)", he maintains his eligibility for the practice squad. Games in which a player is listed as the third-string quarterback do not count as being on the active list. Former quarterback Mike Quinn, who was listed as the third-string quarterback for several teams throughout his career, is a notable example, being practice squad eligible during his 8th NFL season.
Practice squad players practice alongside regular roster players during the week, but they are not allowed to play in actual games.
The practice squad is only in effect during the regular season. During the offseason, players are instead signed to a reserve/future list; any person on a practice squad, or not on an active roster, is eligible for a futures contract. Such contracts count toward a team's 90-person offseason roster limit but do not count toward the team's salary cap until the start of the league fiscal year in March.
Those on the practice squad are paid 17 weeks a year for the regular season, like active players, however unlike the latter there are no signing bonuses nor guaranteed money. Practice squad players earn considerably less than active squad players; in 2012, the minimum salary for a practice squad player was $5,700 per week, and the minimum rookie salary was $390,000. Some practice squad players are paid considerably more, however. In 2006, the New England Patriots paid third-year player Billy Yates the full $425,000 he would have earned on the active roster. In addition to their low wages, practice squad players can be cut from a team at any time. This means that they incur additional expenses and uncertainly due to the frequency of moving around as the "cost of living varies so widely from city to city — as do each state’s taxes — that most players err on the side of caution when it comes to the rent they’re willing to pay, since they don’t know where they’ll wind up next". Being on the practice squad is similar to a "journeyman lifestyle, but often without the active roster paychecks that make that path worthwhile". Consequently many practice squad players rely upon family support and/or take offseason jobs.
Many NFL players spent time on practice squads before finding success in the league, including NFL first-team All Pro players James Harrison and Adrian Phillips, Jason Peters, Danny Amendola, Danny Woodhead, Arian Foster and Kyle Cook.
Canadian Football League
The Canadian Football League (CFL) follows similar rules to the NFL with regards to practice squad players, but has unique rules due to its nationality-based player designation and roster ratio system, where Canadian citizens are considered "national" players and non-Canadians are considered either "international" or "global" players. Each CFL team is normally limited to 10 players on their practice squads (2 of which must be national players) and their salaries count against their teams' salary caps. A CFL practice squad roster may further be expanded to 12 with "global" players (see "international players" below). Due to the CFL seasons starting before the NFL's and its position as a smaller sister-league to the NFL, each team's practice squad is temporary expanded to 15 players (17 when counting "global" players) following the NFL's roster cuts at the beginning of the NFL season; the extra 5 players do not count against a team's salary cap.
XFL and NFL Europe
The XFL, which plans to hold is inaugural season in 2020, has announced that, in lieu of individual teams having their own practice squads, it will operate a centralized "Team 9" that will act as both a practice squad and farm team for the entire league. This team will have its own coaches and staff but will not play any on-record games. Team 9 players will be paid the league minimum salary for inactive players, $1,040 per week. A similar system was reportedly used by the now-defunct NFL Europe, the NFL's European developmental league.
College and high school football
In college football, players who are on a team's roster and practice with the team but do not play are known as redshirts. Redshirts consist mostly of freshmen and of transfer students who are not eligible to play in games due to NCAA rules. If a player plays through one entire season as a redshirt, that season does not count toward their limit of four years of eligibility to play college football; in rare circumstances, usually stemming from major injuries, a player may be granted a second redshirt year. Prior to 1972, the NCAA prohibited freshmen from participating in varsity games, though they could practice with the varsity team and compete on separate freshmen teams, similar to junior varsity teams in high school football.
The practice squad has also been used by professional teams and leagues as a way to bring in and train players from outside the United States or Canada, where gridiron football is not a popular sport, as an attempt to foster international interest. In the CFL, players from outside Canada are designated "international" players, which is usually used in reference to American players, but a subset of "international" players known as "global" players was implemented in 2019 to refer to players originating from outside the United States and Canada. This section, for both the NFL and CFL, refers to players that would be eligible for the CFL's "global" designation.
The NFL has operated programs in which selected international players were assigned to teams' practice squads as an extra member who did not count towards a team's maximum practice squad size.
The first, called the International Practice Squad Program, began operation in 2004. In 2005, Rolando Cantu of Mexico was promoted to the Arizona Cardinals' active roster after spending the previous season on the practice squad as a member of the program. Players from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Japan, and Russia also participated. In 2008, the program sponsored sixteen players, the largest number ever. The program was discontinued for 2009. The rule allowing for an extra practice squad player of international origin, however, remained in the NFL's rulebook and teams attempted to use the rule even after the demise of the program. For example, in 2013 the Detroit Lions attempted to use it to add Norwegian kicker Håvard Rugland to their practice squad, but were rejected by the NFL, which stated that the rule was meant to be used for players from NFL Europe, which folded after the 2007 season.
A new program, the International Player Pathway, was created in 2017. This new initiative started as a trial involving only NFC South teams. Each team in the division was allowed to sign one international player to its practice squad who would not count against the normal 10-player limit, but would not be eligible to be activated during the season after being signed. The pathway was expanded to eight teams (NFC South and AFC North) for the 2018 season.
Additionally, several international players have tried to find their starts in the NFL through spending time on teams practice squads without having initially been part of these programs, such as Efe Obada, Moritz Böhringer, and Jarryd Hayne.
In the CFL, the "global" player designation was started in 2019 as part of an international partnership with amateur and semi-pro leagues in Mexico and Europe. In addition to the requirement of each CFL team to have one "global" player on their active rosters, each team may have a maximum of two "global" players on their practice squad who do not count against the team's normal practice squad size limit. Each "global" player designated in is paid the CFL minimum salary and a portion of their salary may be sent back to the leagues they were taken from, depending on partnership arrangements; players taken from Mexico, for example, currently have 10% of their salaries sent to the Liga de Fútbol Americano Profesional, Mexico's top level American football league.
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