NFL teams opened training camp with up to the 90-player limit. All 32 teams have a mandatory deadline for roster cuts that the clubs have prepared for. The first deadline for trimming the fat to a 75 players is next week (Aug. 27) prior to 4:00pm (eastern standard time). Teams must make the final cut down to a 53-man roster prior to 9:00 pm (eastern standard time) on August 31st. When developing a practice squad for the 2012 season, teams must wait until September 1st to claim players that were released on the final roster reduction which expires at 12:00 noon (eastern standard time).
Beginning at 12:00 noon, NFL teams may establish a practice squad of eight players by signing free agents who do not have an accrued season of free agency credit or who were on the 46-player active list less than nine regular season games during each of any accrued seasons. A player cannot participate on the practice squad for more than three seasons. These players are paid $5,700 per week. In 2012, teams are allowed a minimum of 43 and maximum of 46 players for each regular season and postseason game.
When you take a look at the big picture of building a 53 man roster it starts with the general manager’s philosophy. A good personnel department begins the roster analysis in January. Street free agents are signed, and these free agents are called “futures.” Teams take a chance on these players to fill “hot spots” and create competitiveness within the depth, to build up the back end of the roster.
The college scouting departments are in charge of gearing up for the annual NFL Draft. The first order of business, as far as the draft is concerned, is the combine held in Indianapolis in February. Pro scouting departments prep the coaching staffs for the free-agency period and which prospects to evaluate in the month of March. Once the draft has concluded at the end of April, rookie mini-camps and offseason workout programs get underway. This period is called OTA’s (organized team activities). These team activities involve coaching sessions, conditioning drills, preparing the team for mini-camp, training camp and the upcoming preseason.
The complete process of trimming a team to the 53 man roster limit is governed by the NFL player personnel department. First, players are waived, meaning they no longer have a contractual agreement with that current team, allowing them to seek employment with another club once they clear waivers.
This past May, the NFL ownership group voted to restructure the IR (injured reserve) rules and allow each team to have the option to pick one player to come off IR after the eighth week. This injured player must be on the 53-man roster after the final preseason cut down. The rule currently states that once on IR, that player is out for the season. The new CBA that was signed Aug 4th 2011 states that the NFLPA must agree on any changes or addendums to the original document. Greg Aiello says: “We have no agreement with the union at this time on making these changes.” This will be an interesting turning point and change for all 32 teams, if they welcome this new rule.
A lot goes into the building of a NFL roster, but the process of cutting a team from 90 to 53 is really an art that takes a keen eye for talent. It also takes input from coaches and scouts. The one voice making the final call on who stays and who goes must be a great listener. It starts with the evaluation of practice sessions, OTA’s, mini-camps and preseason games to find the players that are a true scheme fit. There are long staff meetings with coaches and the personnel department that are fighting for players in a lot of organizations.
Most teams break down the roster by groupings, with the amount of players within the group needed to form the 53-man roster. For example Offense: QB 3, RB 3, FB 1, TE 4, WO 6, OL 9 (for a total of 26). Defense: DL 8, LB 7, DB 9 (for a total of 24); Special Teams: Kicker, Punter, Snapper (total of 3). Add it all up and you get the 53-man limit. It is really a numbers game, and every team has different reasons for keeping players like a third-down back, blocking fullback, or to go heavy on receivers in three or four receiver sets. On defense, sub packages are weighted heavier with defensive backs to defend multiple receiver sets or gear up to stop the run with more linebackers and defensive linemen, depending on competition within the division.
In 11 of my 15 years as a front office executive, the formula I was taught was rather simple. I rank the team from 1-60, from the best players to the worst, blue to green. Blue players are difference makers with high production. Red players are starters and heavy contributors. Orange Players are backups and special teamers with limited production and green players are a high percentage of free agents that won’t make the team. I pick the starting 11 on offense and defense; that’s 22 players. Add the second-string players and you get to 44. I then add a kicker, punter and snapper to bring the total to 47. Once I get to 47, I then choose six players I just could not go without to bring the total to 53.
After each team has finalized its 53-man roster, every team in the league has 24 hours to sign any player who has been waived. Once this 24-hour period has passed, each team may sign up to eight players to form their practice squad. These eight players practice with the team, but they are ineligible to participate in games unless they are added to the official 53-man roster (in the place of another player, of course). Teams may sign a player from another team’s practice squad only if they immediately add the player to the 53-man roster. For each NFL game, only 46 players can be listed as active, or eligible to participate in the game.