Cut or Protect: NFL Roster Rules

These were the rules as of the '08 season courtesy of Scout.com.  Test Tuesday.  

Summer Camp Rosters:  Each team can open Summer Camp with up to 80 signed players.  In addition, teams can have a one-player exemption for each of up to 4 players they have placed and maintained in the prior season of NFL Europa.   RIP NFL Europa...  Some teams will also get an additional one player allowance to maintain a European native on the roster (as the Cardinals did last year), but this temporary allowance is only available once every 4 years.

There are two league-wide standardized summer cutdown dates: the first requires rosters to be trimmed to 65 players and the second to 53 players.
 
53-man Protected Roster:  Prior to the opening week of the season, each team must trim its roster to 53 active players by waiving all other players and/or placing them into alternative designations (e.g., IR, Suspended etc.--see Other Player Designations below).
 
On regular-season game days the team names its 45-man Active Roster which defines those players who may participate in the game. In addition, each team is allowed to name one of the remaining 8 players as its emergency backup QB--that player can only play QB and can only play in the event of injury to the team's #1 and #2 QBs.
 
8-man Practice Squad:  After all teams have set their 53-man rosters prior to opening day and each team has passed 24-hours on acquiring the contracts of every other player waived by the other 31 NFL teams, each team may sign up to 8 players to occupy its developmental Practice Squad. These players practice with their teams but cannot dress on game days.  Further, any other team may claim a team's PS player on waivers at any given time during the season -- the only stipulation to this is that the team signing the PS player must immediately add that player to its 53-man roster (as what happened to Chris Harrington last year with the Bengals).
 
A player is elibible for the PS if he:
  • Has no prior Accrued Seasons in the NFL
  • Has one prior Accrued Season in which he was on the 45-man active roster for no more than 8 games
  • Has been on the PS with the particular team no more than 2 prior seasons
-- Important related legalise definitions:
* Accrued NFL Season:   six or more regular-season games in one season in which a player is on the 53-man protected roster, IR list or PUP list

* PUP list (Physically Unable to Perform):   this list designates players with serious injuries that will keep them from being able to start a season on the 53-man protected list but may be able to return to the roster during the regular season. The players must be placed on this roster at or before the league-wide 65-man summer roster cutdown to be eligible for this designation, and they must stay on this list for at least the first six weeks of the regular season. After this time teams have 3 weeks to evaluate such players after which each such player must be placed on the 53-man roster, season-ending Injured Reserve (IR) or waivers.

* Injury Settlement:  occasionally a team has a player on IR but agrees with that player to a cash settlement in exchange for releasing that player. The team benefits by limiting further financial responsibility and player carrying costs while the player benefits both by receiving cash and by becoming eligible to sign with another team and begin playing as soon as physically capable (perhaps even during the same season)

* Practice Squad Season:  consists of three or more weeks during a single season on a team's PS
 
Other Player Designations:  teams may protect their rights to given players even if those players are not on the 53-man roster in these designations:
  • PUP list
  • IR list
  • League Suspension list
  • Retired list
  • Scout.com probably forgot a few (e.g., drafted but unsigned players remain protected for a year; signed but non-reporting players remain protected indefinitely)


Ready to play NFL GM now?  In light of these rules you can now understand what may happen with Spach if he starts the season on the PUP list (six weeks off the 53-man roster and has to be designated as PUP before the first cuts).  Throw in Patrick's "League Suspension" list status, it's no wonder the Cardinals have a grab bag of TE on the 80-man roster.  Vallejo and Keith are not eligible for protection under the PS so they have to make the final 53 or they're playing elsewhere (and perhaps a different league entirely).

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