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Explaining the roster sizes and Practice Squad rules under the new CBA

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Hopefully, this helps clear up some confusion

San Francisco 49ers Practice Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Earlier this week, during our 53-man roster projection, there was some confusion about roster sizes, game day active rosters, the practice squad size, and the game-day inactive list. So I’ll cite some of the CBA changes and do my best to clear up any confusion. Let’s start with the game day active roster. Here is the CBA’s language:

Beginning with the 2020 regular season, the Active List limit shall be increased from forty-six players per Club to forty-eight players per Club; provided, however, that such a Club’s Active List includes a minimum of eight players whose primary playing position is Center, Guard or Tackle (collectively, “Offensive Lineman”).

Interpretation: As long as the team has eight or more linemen that are active, they’re allowed to have 48 roster spots instead of 46, which was the maximum number of active gameday players under the previous CBA. Teams need to have eight players for the five offensive line positions: LT, LGG, C, RG, and RT. If a team doesn’t have the minimum of eight linemen active, will they go back to 46 active players? Here is the CBA’s explanation:

For the sake of clarity and avoidance of doubt, for any game for which a Club’s Active List includes fewer than eight Offensive Linemen, such Club’s Active List limit shall be forty-seven players. The Clubs may not reduce these limits for the duration of this Agreement; provided, however, that individual Clubs may carry fewer than forty-eight players on their Active List during the regular season or postseason, but no fewer than forty-four players.

The minimum number of active players is 44, according to the CBA. I doubt any team will willingly field fewer than 46 healthy players. I’d love to know how the CBA arrived at these specific numbers. Also, what their explanation behind having inactive players on the roster is.

55 53-man roster

There was an increase in the number of players active on game day, so, naturally, there will be an increase in roster size, right? Here is how the CBA answers that question:

During the regular season and postseason, a Club’s Active/Inactive List shall not exceed 53 players unless a Club has chosen to elevate either one or two players from its Practice Squad to its Active/Inactive List, in accordance with the procedures set forth in Article 33, Section 5 of this Agreement.

Under the previous CBA, there wasn’t any gray area. The roster was limited to 53 players. Under the new CBA, teams can “elevate either one or two players from its Practice Squad.”

Elevating players from the practice squad temporarily

The CBA has two pages, 15 sub-sections, and even more details discussing the practice squad rules. Here are a few of the main talking points:

In each game of the regular and postseason, a Club may choose to elevate either one or two players from its Practice Squad to its Active/Inactive List without the player first terminating his Practice Squad Player Contract and executing an NFL Player Contract.

That is telling us the practice squad player is elevated temporarily and will revert to the practice squad within a business day of the day the game was played. Also, the player called up does not have to be active on game day. The big change is once the player reverts to the Practice Squad, he will not be subject to waivers.

Also, a team may only elevate a Practice Squad player for a “maximum combination of two regular-season or postseason games in the same League Year.” If a team wants to elevate a player for the third time, then we go back to the system that was outlined under the previous CBA:

The player must first terminate his Practice Squad Player Contract and execute an NFL Player Contract. If the Club wants to return the player to the Practice Squad, then the Club must request waivers on that contract or terminate the contract if the player is not subject to waivers, before resigning the player to its Practice Squad. This basically means the Club has to risk losing the player via waivers or free agency, depending on the player’s status.

The Section also outlines the possible outcomes if a player who has been elevated for more than two games is waived (presumably in an attempt to return him to the practice squad):

  • If another club does not claim that contract, the player becomes a free agent and is free to sign with any Club
  • If another Club claims him, then the “counter” is reset for the player with the new Club, and he can again be elevated up to a maximum of two games, subject to the rules set forth in Section 5
  • If he clears waivers and resigns to the Practice Squad of his original Club, the player may not be elevated under the special Section 5 conditions for the remainder of that regular or postseason.

Tying this back together, NFLL teams still have a 53-man roster, but that roster can be expanded at the teams’ discretion to 54 or 55 players any given week by elevating players from its Practice Squad. The 53-man roster is permanent, as the players elevated revert back to the Practice squad. In the case of the San Francisco 49ers, expect some strategic movement based on their opponent that week. Don’t expect these moves to happen early in the week. The CBA specifies that the roster moves that take place can only happen on the last day that roster moves are allowed for that team in the given week.

The size of the practice squad is clear:

In the 2020 and 2021, League Years Practice Squads shall not exceed twelve (12) players per Club. Beginning with the 2022 League Year and for the remainder of this Agreement, Practice Squads shall not exceed fourteen (14) players per Club.

The eligibility, movement, and how these players are paid are the furthest thing from clear. How this reads is the Practice Squad will have 12 spots in 2020 and 2021, then from 2022 through 2030, that number will be 14 players.