So Saturday is the day when teams have to cut their roster down to 53 players. I suspect we'll be seeing more than a few announcements later today as players who never had a chance are let go. In that vein I wanted to write up a brief post explaining some of the ins and outs of roster moves in the pre-season, as well as some definitions.
The purpose of the practice squad is to develop young NFL players to the point where they can compete at an NFL level. As such there are a few rules involved:
1.) A player can only be put on the practice squad for three seasons. After that he's considered too seasoned and has to try to make a regular 53 man roster
2.) Any player who dresses for more than 9 games during those three years is considered ineligible for the practice squad. It doesn't even have to be all in the same year either--a player could dress for 5 games one year and 4 another and be ineligible for the third
3.) Players on the practice squad make a minimum of $5200 per week, though a team is welcome to pay them more. While on the practice squad a player is considered a free agent, so if another team wanted to come courting they can. This courtship allows teams to both woo a player to their practice squad (by offering more money or a better shot at earning a job), or to their 53 man roster.
Physically Unable to Play/Injured Reserve
Players who show up injured to camp can be put into either of these categories (or remain on the active 53). A team can designate a player as physically unable to perform their job. If they do that then the player doesn't count against their 53, but the team still owes him a salary. If a player goes on the PUP he has to be there at least six weeks of the regular season, but no more than eight. If it's going to be longer than eight he goes on injured reserve and is done for the year.
To place a player on IR he first has to be cut, so another team can take a chance on him and sign him (though I can't recall it ever happening).
This is by far the most common activity to happen during the pre-season and we'll be hearing a bunch of news regarding some of our favorites over the next two days. Many sports writers use the terms interchangeably and to a certain extent they are interchangeable. They all mean that a team doesn't want a player anymore, but there are a few differences which I'll outline below:
Waive--When a player is waived it's not necessarily a sign that the team wants him on their practice squad. Any player who is released/cut/waived by their team and has not had four accrued seasons (an accrued season is any year in which a player dresses for 6 or more games) gets put on the waiver wire automatically. At that point any other team in the league can put in a request for him and the team with the worst record gets first dibs. If he clears waivers he's a free agent and can sign with any team at any time (including the practice squad of his original team if he so chooses).
During the off-season a player stays on waivers for 10 days, however from July to December players only stay on the wavier wire for one day. When a player is on the waiver wire other teams are forbidden to contact him until he clears waivers. Any player claimed off waivers is paid the same salary he was paid with his previous team.
Cut/Release--These basically mean the same thing, though I've heard some teams use the phrase "cut" to describe the termination of a player who hasn't performed well and "released" to describe a termination that might happen due to other reasons (too high of a salary being the biggest one). For example Laverneus Coles was released by the Jets this week, but will likely be resigned week 2 of the season. By releasing him now they can avoid paying him his guaranteed roster bonus (which he would be owed if he was on the roster week 1).
Being cut or released only happens to players with more than 4 accrued seasons, and they hit free agency immediately, with one exception. After the trade deadline (sixth week of the regular season), any player who is cut enters the waiver process. This happened with Richie Icognito last year--he was cut by the Rams, entered waivers and was picked up by the Bills.
The following 49ers are eligible for the practice squad, though some of them won't come within sniffing distance of it as they'll not be cut by us. Others will be cut and grabbed by other teams and some will be cut and not land a job.
Joe Jon Finley
Brian de La Puente