In between now and training camp, I'm looking at some of the veterans on the Jets roster to assess what kind of contribution we might expect from them in 2016. We're going to shift gears and take a look at the practice squad in terms of who is eligible, how it will likely be made up and what we can learn from who was on there during the 2015 season.
Note: Pro Football Focus exclusively provides some stats from this article.
The basic rules
Most people should be familiar with how the practice squad system works: A group of players not signed to the active roster remains with the team and is able to practice with them during the week. However, the rules surrounding who is eligible and how long a player can remain on the practice squad are complicated.
Recent changes to the eligibility rules, introduced in 2014 and extended last month, have increased the number of players retaining practice squad eligibility and granted added flexibility to teams who want the opportunity to continue developing players.
Under the old rules, a player was only eligible to sign for a practice squad if he didn't have an accrued season. Players accrue a season by being on full pay status -- either the 53-man roster or injured reserve -- for six games in any season. The only exception to the above was players with an accrued season were still practice squad eligible if they had yet to be active in nine games in any regular season. It was also possible to use up all three years of practice squad eligibility if someone still hadn't accrued a season or been active in nine games in a season.
In 2014, the rules changed. The size of the practice squad was increased from eight to 10 and, while eligibility for the first eight spots remained as above, the two extra spots came under more relaxed rules in which anybody with two accrued seasons was still eligible, even if they had been active for more than nine games in either or both of their accrued seasons.
Last month, the NFL announced more rule changes. While the practice squad size was kept at 10, the league increased the number of spots that can be given to players with two accrued seasons from two to four. I.e., now only six of the 10 practice squad members need to meet the original criteria.
The main other rule to be aware of is that a player on a team's practice squad can be signed by any of the other 31 NFL teams at any point during the season, unless they are about to face that team within the next week. If that happens, the player must remain with his new team and on its active roster for at least three weeks, even if he gets injured. In practice, the original team will usually get first refusal in these situations, so if the player is about to be poached, teams usually get the opportunity to activate them themselves.
Players earn about $7,000 per week when on the practice squad, less than a third of what they'd get if on the active roster earning a minimum salary.
Who is eligible on the current Jets roster?
Looking at the Jets' current 90-man roster, it appears there are 56 players who are practice squad eligible and 34 who are not. However, by my calculations, 16 of those 56 won't qualify under the old criteria, so they will only be able to take up one of the four spots that come under the new rules.
Obviously, anyone without an accrued season will automatically qualify under the old rules. That would automatically include all rookies, of which there are 21 on the 90-man roster -- the seven draft picks and 14 undrafted free agents.
Another 14 players on the current roster are still treated as first-year players even though they are not rookies. That would mostly be players who were rookies last season but didn't get much of a chance to play, although it could also include players who have been in the league for longer than that but still not accrued a season. For example, Freddie Bishop went undrafted in 2013, but is treated as a first-year player because he still hasn't accrued an NFL season. Wes Saxton, Taiwan Jones and Deon Simon are among the other first year players on the roster.
Any second- or third-year players will automatically qualify under the "two-accrued-seasons" rule, but the Jets would be restricted to only four such players. Some of the players on this list would also qualify under the old rules if their accrued season(s) didn't see them on the active gameday roster at least nine times. I believe this applies to four of the 20 second- and third-year players on the Jets roster: Jarvis Harrison, Dion Bailey, Ronald Martin and Dakota Dozier. Therefore, these players could be placed on the practice squad without using one of the four spots reserved for players with up to two accrued seasons.
The other 16 players in that second- and third-year group will only be eligible under the new rules, so the Jets can only take four of the 10 practice squad members from this group. Jace Amaro, Dexter McDougle and Trevor Reilly, 2014 draftees, are among those who meet the criteria. Calvin Pryor does too, but it's obviously not realistic to expect him to end up on the practice squad, especially given his guaranteed salary for the next two years.
Finally, assuming any player in his fourth (or higher) season would not qualify by virtue of having more than two accrued seasons. However, it is theoretically possible to qualify under the old rules as long as they weren't on the active gameday roster nine times in any accrued seasons. This appears to catch Ben Ijalana, who is still practice squad eligible despite being headed into his sixth season, but everyone else with at least three accrued seasons is ineligible.
There's always a strong possibility that someone not currently on the roster will end up being added to the practice squad after cut down day and plenty of scope to add players from off the street over the course of the season.
Last year's practice squad
The Jets had a total of 23 different players on last year's practice squad, 10 of whom were rookies. Fourteen of those 23, including six of the rookies, are still with the team and on the current 90-man roster.
Over the past few years the Jets have done a lot less tinkering with the practice squad than they did while Mike Tannenbaum was the general manager. John Idzik only signed a total of 29 players to the practice squad in 2013 and 2014, while back in 2011 and 2012, Tannenbaum signed a total of 60, albeit that several of those were players went onto and off the squad a few times. While Mike Maccagnan's activity last year was higher than Idzik's, several additions were short-term, late-season auditions, so his approach doesn't have much in common with Tannenbaum, who of course operated with smaller eight-man squads.
Despite the relative lack of activity, there was actually only one player who remained on the practice squad all year: Rookie defensive lineman Deion Barnes. That said, there were several players who spent most of the year on the squad. Simon and Harrison started off on the active roster, then spent the rest of the year on the practice squad when the team needed their spot. Jones, Saxton and Julian Howsare also spent most of the year on there. Jones was activated for the final game, Saxton was activated for one game in Week 4 before being added back and Howsare had a three-week gap when he was released but then reinstated. Martin also spent half the year on the practice squad and the other half on the active roster.
A few of the players were added late in the season, presumably just to get a look at them with a view to signing them to a futures deal after the season. From that group, Julian Stanford and Brandon Bostick are still with the team. Titus Davis, who had already had a stint on the practice squad earlier in the season, is another such player.
The Jets made good use of the extension to the rules in order to place players on the practice squad that wouldn't otherwise have qualified. They did this with Daryl Richardson and Matt Simms in 2014, and Mike Catapano and Kenbrell Thompkins -- each of whom eventually made their way onto the active roster -- in 2015.
Who are good candidates for the 2016 practice squad?
The extension to the new rules this year affords the Jets a wider selection of players from which to choose. With that in mind, there typically seem to be three types of players you would want to fill out your practice squad with.
First, anyone who almost made the roster as a reserve is useful to keep around in case an injury creates the need for the Jets to fill in on the active roster. Johnson is a good example of this from last year's team. Secondly, a team will look to retain anyone who is a developmental prospect. This could be either because they have technical or physical limitations they need to work on to realize their potential or because they are learning a new position. Howsare, having transitioned to full back, and Barnes, who needed to add some strength, are good examples from last year. Finally, they might look to fill out the squad with some professional players with strong character, simply because they can rely upon them to work hard and do a good job on the scout team.
From the potential fill-in category, there might be a defensive back such as Bailey or McDougle if the team can't find room for them on the active roster. It might also be a good place to stash a receiver, perhaps one that can also return kicks and brings some upside like Jalin Marshall or Chandler Worthy. Offensive line reinforcements are also useful to have, so a player like Dozier or Johnson could also find his way onto here.
In terms of players with developmental potential, it's best to to be careful about who is placed on the practice squad because if there's a high-profile player with potential, then another team could poach them. In such situations, the team might instead opt to preserve their rights by stashing them on the roster as a healthy scratch all year as the Jets did with Dozier in 2014, or at least keep them on there until the early season player movement settles down, as they did with Harrison and Simon last year.
With that in mind, the Jets likely wouldn't risk putting someone like Christian Hackenberg or -- if he shows promise -- Brandon Shell on the practice squad. However, it could be a good spot for one of their undrafted rookie defensive linemen or their only undrafted rookie offensive lineman, Kyle Friend. Other interesting potential development options include Bryce Petty, Tom Hackett and converted-tight end Jason Vander Laan.
Bishop would also be a good candidate and remaining on the practice squad would earn him approximately double what he would have earned if he stayed in the CFL, so that's a worthwhile and achievable target for him to shoot for that would justify his decision to leave Canada to try and earn an NFL job.
While it's obviously far too early to project who will be viable practice squad candidates, it's still interesting to look at some recent trends to get some idea of what the team's approach might be in 2016.
The importance of the practice squad is something that can be both understated and overstated at times. Nevertheless, there are usually some contributors each season that had spent time there. In addition to Thompkins and Catapano, the likes of Brent Qvale, Rontez Miles and Marcus Williams have all spent time on the practice squad over the past couple of seasons, but went on to contribute for the Jets last season.
Heading into the 2016 season, I'm sure Maccagnan will make productive use of the practice squad. If used correctly, it enables you to effectively extend the active roster by a few spots and retain the rights of some promising players that you can continue to develop until they're ready to contribute.