From a distance, it’s easy to think of an NFL roster as little more than a roster, whether on paper or on a website. But in reality, things are more complicated than that. Not only does a team have to cover its bases — you can’t have just one quarterback going into the season, for example — but every name on the roster is a real person with real hopes and dreams.
The ultimate reality will make Tuesday, August 29 especially painful. It’s the deadline for NFL teams to trim their rosters ahead of the regular season.
But what do the NFL roster cuts actually mean? Here’s a guide to cutting deadlines.
When is the NFL roster cut deadline?
At its core, NFL Shutdown Day is a numbers game.
During the preseason, 90 players are allowed on the roster. This gives clubs the opportunity to examine players on the fringes and see what they have to offer. However, that perk disappears once training camp is over.
During the regular season, each team has 53 slots available. The cutoff date represents the day the roster must be cut.
When is the NFL roster deadline?
This year, the NFL roster cutoff deadline is Tuesday, Aug. 29 at 4 p.m. ET.
So every team in the league will have to reduce its active player base to 53 by then. However, there are specific rules for certain situations.
Is there only one roster deadline?
In previous years, NFL teams had to gradually trim their rosters week by week during the preseason. However, this process is a thing of the past.
Now, there is only one deadline. While clubs are free to act ahead of the deadline, there are no formal rules other than business being done by 4pm on Tuesday.
What happens to injured players?
While the NFL is notorious for mostly non-guaranteed contracts, injured players aren’t automatically kicked to the curb at the end of training camp. There are several ways to remain in the organization without taking a spot on the roster.
The Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list is for players who miss an entire training camp due to a football-related injury. These players may participate in team activities but are not eligible to practice. If you remain on the PUP roster after the roster has been reduced, you will not count towards the active roster, but you must miss at least the first four games of the season.
The Non-Football Injury (NFI) list is similar to the PUP list with two notable exceptions. First of all, this injury has nothing to do with football, like Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minka Fitzpatrick injured his wrist while biking last summer. Second, these players are not paid, while the players on the PUP list are paid.
Players can also be placed on Injured Reserve (IR) if they are going to be out for an extended period of time. These players also don’t count against active rosters.
Beyond that, teams can release players who will receive IR through injury and release. That essentially means agreeing to part ways, presumably with some compensation, and usually to give players the chance to sign with a new team rather than spend time waiting on the sidelines until later in the year to be released.
Abandoned and released
When a player fails to make the roster, you hear about them being waived or released. While the two terms may sound interchangeable, they are not.
While being waived and released have the same end result — you leave the team — there are subtle differences. Players with fewer than four seasons of cumulative service are released, meaning they are free to sign with any team. If a player has more than four seasons of experience, he is waived and must complete the waiver process so another team can claim him. If a player passes unclaimed, he will be in the same free agency boat as the released player.
How Practice Teams Work
A training squad is a group of players who help a team prepare for each week’s games in practice. It might not be a glamorous role, but it offers a chance for younger players to get their feet in the door, and for older players to hang around the league and show they can contribute. And, for our purposes, it affects roster management.
Each team can have 16 practice players. The rules regarding eligibility are:
- Players who have not accumulated any NFL season experience (rookies);
- A player who has played fewer than nine regular-season games on the active roster during a cumulative season;
- Each team has a maximum of four players whose cumulative season count does not exceed two (no game limit);
- There is a maximum of six players per team, and there is no limit to the cumulative number of seasons.
So while there’s no guarantee of safety — another team can make a better offer and sign a player from another team’s training squad — clubs will try to hide potentially useful players out there. . The role also allows players to continue to earn a salary and stay with the organization.
So don’t be surprised to see some of the released players make it to the practice squad soon.