NFL training camp is rife with roster rearrangement, spawning transactional jargon that's rarely explained to the average fan. With that in mind, I wanted to take this moment to answer a series of frequently asked questions.
Now, rule modifications and addendums crop up at various points in the offseason, but below you'll find the most current information regarding roster intricacies such as injured reserve (reserve/injured list), PUP (physically unable to perform list), NFI (non-football injury/illness list), practice squads and more.
- August 16: Roster cutdown from 90 to 85.
- August 23: Roster cutdown from 85 to 80.
- August 30: Final roster cutdown to 53.
- August 31: Waiver period for players released Aug. 30 expires, and teams can form practice squads. Players placed on IR or NFI after 4 p.m. ET can be designated to return.
- September 4: Final day of preseason training camp for all teams.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What is the physically unable to perform (PUP) list and how does it work?
The physically unable to perform list, better known as PUP, is a designation for players who are physically unable to perform football services due to football-related injuries. These players can participate in team activities but are not allowed to practice.
Active/PUP list: Players are placed on this list during training camp and count toward a team's 90-man roster. Players can be removed from the list at any time during camp, but can't be placed back on the list. Players on this list as of final roster cutdowns must be placed on the Reserve/PUP, released, traded or counted against the 53-man roster.
Reserve/PUP list: Teams must decide by the 53-man roster cutdown deadline (Aug. 30 this season) whether to place a player on this list. Players placed on this list at that time must miss at least the team's first four games -- down from six in seasons prior to 2022. Unlike in the past, players can be activated immediately after such time has elapsed. Any player who is designated Reserve/PUP on or after rosters are reduced to 80 (Aug. 23 this season) will also be subject to the same four-game absence.
Players on the PUP list are paid their entire base salary. A player's contract will not be tolled (meaning the contract will not be suspended and resumed the following season) while on the PUP, unless he is in the last year of his deal and he is both not able to perform football services as of the sixth regular season game and is not activated during that regular season or postseason.
What's the non-football-injury (NFI) list and how does it work?
The Non-Football Injury or Illness list (NFI) is similar to the PUP list, but it is used for players who suffered injuries or ailments outside of NFL activities. This can range from Minkah Fitzpatrick's wrist injury falling off a bike on vacation to Jameson Williams and John Metchie III's ACL injuries in college. Players who begin the season on NFI (as of cutdowns to 53-man rosters) can be activated after the team has played its first four regular season games.
However, a player on this list is not entitled to receive his salary, and his contract will continue to run while in such status. That said, the team and player can negotiate a rate of payment for the player while on this list.
If such a player is in the last year of his contract (including option years), his contract will toll, provided the player is not physically able to provide his services by the team's sixth regular-season game and the team pays his prorated base salary for the balance of the season after that date. If the player is taken off of NFI during the league-allotted window, his contract will not toll.
What is injured reserve?
The Reserve/Injured List, better known as injured reserve or IR, is a list for players who have suffered a football injury that makes them not immediately available to their team. When a player is on injured reserve, he is not eligible to play for his team. There's no limit to the number of players who can be placed on the list, but there is a cap on those "designated to return" from the list. Players placed on injured reserve prior to the close of the waiver period following final roster cutdowns are ineligible to return that season.
Per NFL Network Insider Mike Garafolo, the NFL and NFLPA agreed to amended IR rules during the 2022 offseason. Each team can now designate up to eight players to return from the Reserve/Injured or Non-Football Injury/Illness List. Each player may be designated to return twice in one season. However, both designations will tally toward the limit of eight. Players must remain on this list for at least four games prior to returning to the active roster. Teams can begin to designate players to return on August 31 this season.
Here is a list of other notable reserve designations for NFL players:
- Reserve/Suspended: Any player who is currently suspended from the NFL. Such a player does not count toward roster limits and is not paid his base salary while on this list. Atlanta Falcons WR Calvin Ridley is a current example of someone on this list.
- Reserve/Retired: Players who have filed retirement papers but are under contract with the team. This player's salary counts against the cap as if he had been released. Any future bonus prorations will accelerate onto the salary cap. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were charged more than $7 million in signing bonus prorations after Ali Marpet's retirement this offseason.
- Reserve/Did Not Report (left team): Players who have left their team or stopped playing NFL football but have yet to submit retirement papers. This player does not count against a team's roster limit or its salary cap. This offseason, the Baltimore Ravens placed undrafted rookie receiver Devon Williams on this list when he did not show up for training camp. Williams was reinstated days later before ultimately being released.
- Reserve/Military: This list is for players who have to complete military service while signed to an NFL contract. Such a player's contract is tolled, and he is not paid, nor does he count against roster limits. The latter is true until he plays in his first game.
- Reserve/Commissioner Exempt List: This list is for players in special or unusual circumstances who are momentarily not counted against a team's roster limit. The Commissioner is the only person or entity who can place a player on this list.
What are the current COVID protocols?
Per NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero, the NFL and NFLPA agreed to suspend COVID-19 protocols for the 2022 season. Masks, tracking devices, symptoms testing and more will no longer be required. Unvaccinated players are no longer subject to mandatory testing requirements. Players with symptoms must promptly report them and get a negative test result before entering the team building. Those who test positive must self-isolate for five days. Any more stringent state or local law will supersede these rules.
How many players can be on a team's practice squad?
Beginning in the 2022 season, NFL practice squads consist of up to 16 players -- an increase from the 12 such players allowed in 2020 and '21. The original CBA called for an expansion to 14 players in 2022, but the NFL and NFLPA agreed on an amendment in May of 2022. For the 2022 campaign, these squads are compiled on Aug. 31, after players released on Aug. 30 have cleared waivers.
All players with zero accrued seasons and those with fewer than nine regular-season games in their lone accrued season are eligible for the practice squad. Furthermore, teams can have up to 10 players with two or fewer accrued seasons and up to six players with unlimited accrued seasons on the practice squad.
A practice squad player is eligible to negotiate and sign to any team's active roster at any time during the League Year. However, such a player is prohibited from signing to another team's practice squad. Essentially, no practice squad hopping.
One caveat: A player can't sign with his team's next opponent after 4 p.m. ET on the sixth day before said game. The timeframe changes to 10 days during bye weeks. After the conference championships, no player from a Super Bowl practice squad can sign with the opponent.
International players: The NFL can also elect to give any or all clubs an additional spot on their practice squad for an international player. This player's citizenship (or principal place of residence) must be outside the United States (including its territories) and Canada. This player does not count against the 16-player limit. These players are barred from negotiating or signing an NFL contract with any team over the course of their practice squad deal.
What classifies as a roster exemption?
A player with a roster exemption does not count toward the teams Active/Inactive List (53-man roster). A few notable examples of roster exemptions:
- A player who received but has not signed the Transition or Franchise Tag.
- A player under contract who fails to report at least five days prior to the team's final day of training camp. Such a player will not be paid until the exemption is removed.
- Exclusive Rights and Restricted Free Agents who received but have not signed their tenders can also be placed on the except list under a variety of conditions.
What is the difference between being waived and released?
The termination of a player contract typically triggers one of two outcomes: 1) The player is released and free to negotiate with any team at any time; 2) He is subject to waivers.
The waiver system allows teams to place a claim on a player contract before that player becomes a free agent. After a 24-hour period when teams can place claims, the team with the highest priority will be awarded the player. If no team claims the player, he immediately becomes a free agent. Priority is based on two different time windows:
- From the day after the Super Bowl through the third regular season game, the waiver order is based on the order of the draft (prior to trades or forfeitures of picks).
- After the third game, the waiver order is an inversion of the current league-wide win-loss standings.
Players with fewer than four credited seasons are subject to waivers at all times.
Players with four or more credited seasons are not subject to waivers when released from the day after the Super Bowl through the trade deadline. After this date and outside of this period, the contract must be placed on waivers and can be claimed by another team.
The waiver period opens the first business day after the Super Bowl and closes at the end of the regular season.
What is the difference between the active roster and the game-day roster?
Well, these are designations for the regular season, but this is a good place to explain each.
- Active (game day) list: If a team has a minimum of eight offensive linemen (primary position being center, offensive guard or offensive tackle) on the active game day roster, the maximum roster size is 48 players. If a team has fewer than eight offensive linemen, the maximum drops to 47.
- Active/inactive (53-man roster) list: The active/inactive list remains at 53 players for the regular season and playoffs. However, a team can increase its roster to 54 or 55 players by using the standard elevation addendum (click here for the full explanation) to bring one or two practice squad players to the active/inactive list.
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