In sports, the practice squad, also called the taxi squad or practice roster, is a group of players signed by a team but not part of their main roster. Frequently used in American or Canadian football, these squads consist of less athletically developed or skilled players. They serve as extra players during the team's practices, often as part of the scout team emulating an upcoming opponent's play style.
Cleveland Browns coach Paul Brown invented the "taxi squad," a group of promising scouted players who did not make the roster but were kept on reserve. The team owner, Mickey McBride, put them on the payroll of his taxi company, although they did not drive cabs.
National Football League
Each NFL team may keep up to ten members on its practice squad in addition to the 53-member main roster. A majority of those on a practice squad are rookie draft picks and Undrafted Free Agents (UDFAs) who were cut in training camps. A practice squad also includes veterans, up to four as of the 2016 season. Players may be signed to a practice squad for several reasons: for lack of space on the team, due to injury, or because they require more development.
A player cannot participate on the practice squad for more than three seasons; he is eligible for a third season only if the team has at least 53 players on its active/inactive list for the duration of that player's employment, or have no prior accrued seasons in the NFL (an accrued season is six or more games on the active roster); or if he has accrued a year of NFL experience on a club's 53-man active roster. If the player was on the active list for fewer than 9 games during their "only Accrued Season(s)", he maintains his eligibility for the practice squad. Games in which a player is listed as the third-string quarterback (a designation that has been abolished as of 2011) do not count as being on the active list.
Practice squad players practice alongside regular roster players during the week, but they are not allowed to play in actual games. They can be paid considerably less than active squad players: The minimum salary from 2008 to 2010 was $5,200 per week (2008-2010) for 17 weeks, or $88,400 per season, in comparison to the NFL minimum rookie salary of $420,000. In 2012 the minimum salary for a practice squad player was $5,700 per week, and the minimum rookie salary in 2012 was $390,000. Some practice squad players are paid considerably more, however. In 2006, the New England Patriots paid third-year player Billy Yates the full $425,000 he would have earned on the active roster.
Practice squad players are free agents; they can be signed to any team's 53-man roster at any time during the season. In other words, NFL teams are free to "poach" other teams' practice squads without compensating the teams, with one exception: a team cannot sign another team's practice squad players if they are playing against each other in the immediate future, a restriction that prevents using the tactic solely to steal game plans.
Additionally, the NFL had a program in which which selected players from outside the United States or Canada were assigned to teams' practice squads, called the International Practice Squad Program. The program began operation in 2004. In 2005, Rolando Cantu of Mexico was promoted to the Arizona Cardinals' active roster after spending the previous season on the practice squad as a member of the program. Players from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Japan, and Russia also participated. In 2008, the program sponsored sixteen players, the largest amount to date. The program was not used in 2009.
In other sports, the minor league system serves many of the same purposes. (Injury risks, high costs and a belief that there is a lack of fan interest have prevented football from developing a formal, competitive minor league system.) For Major League Baseball teams, Triple-A is an unofficial taxi squad. Likewise, the American Hockey League and NBA Development League serve this role for the National Hockey League and National Basketball Association, respectively.
- Cantor 2008, p. 95.
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