December 6, 2023

Bucs Life

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Making The Team: The Anatomy of an NFL Roster

4 min read


Kids like Summer. Some people like Spring or Fall. Others like Winter with all the holidays. Me? My favorite season is football season, and it’s FINALLY here. All 32 training camps are underway, and we have LIVE football to watch. It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Some fans are lucky enough to go to training camp to watch the players in action working their tails off to make the team. Most fans just see the final product that takes the field on Week 1 of the regular season. But how many of you actually know the ins and outs of putting that final product together? How many of you are aware of the steps taken to put together an NFL roster? Well, if you don’t know, I’m about to tell you.

An NFL football team consists of an active roster as well as a practice squad. The active roster has 53 players. As of this year, practice squads can have up to 16 players. That’s a total of 69 players between both rosters. NFL teams begin training camp with 90 players, meaning that at least 21 players will work their asses off in camp and not make the team. Teams have three cut-down dates to get from 90 to 53 players. This year, the first cut-down from 90 to 85 players must be done by 4 pm on August 16th. The second cut-down from 85 to 80 players must be done by 4 pm on August 23rd. And the final cut-down from 80 to 53 players must be done by 4 pm on August 30th, meaning that by next Wednesday, there will be five players no longer in camp for the Bucs.

So who will they be?

To understand the process of roster cuts, you first have to understand what a “cut” is. A player can be “cut” in two different ways. First, a non-vested player (LESS than four years of service) is waived and must go through waivers. When a player goes on waivers, other teams have 24 hours to sign him to their roster. If the player is not signed to another team’s roster, he can either be brought back by the team that waived him and signed to their practice squad; OR he can become a free agent. Second, a vested player (MORE than four years of service) is released, meaning that he immediately becomes a free agent and can sign wherever he wants without going through waivers.


Once the final cuts have been made, each NFL team will have 53 players on their active roster. However, only 47 (48 if it includes at least 8 offensive linemen according to the new collective bargaining agreement) will actually dress on gamedays. Usually, those players that dress will be determined by that particular week’s game plan or maybe even injuries. But it’s up to each team how they decide to get to that 53-player number. Typically, an NFL roster consists of:

Quarterbacks – 2 or 3  (Bucs probably 3)

Running Backs – 3 or 4  (Bucs probably 4)

Wide Receivers – 6 or 7  (Bucs probably 6, maybe 7)

Tight Ends – 3 or 4  (Bucs probably 3)

Offensive Linemen – 8 or 9  (Bucs probably 8)

Defensive Linemen – 7 or 8  (Bucs probably 6)

Outside Linebackers – 4 or 5  (Bucs probably 5)

Inside Linebackers – 4 or 5  (Bucs probably 4)

Cornerbacks – 5 or 6  (Bucs probably 6)

Safeties – 4 or 5  (Bucs probably 4)

Special Teams – 3

The number of players kept at each position group is dictated by the type of offensive and defensive schemes the team runs and by players’ abilities to add value on special teams. For instance, a team running a 4-3 defense would keep more defensive linemen, while a team running a 3-4 defense would keep more linebackers. Or a team that passes the ball more could keep more wide receivers, while a running team might keep more running backs and tight ends. Last year, the Buccaneers carried four QB’s on their active roster (That won’t happen this season). This year, they could end up keeping 7 wide receivers simply because of what happened to them with injuries late last season.



The NFL practice squad seems to go through rule changes every season. This year is no different. For 2022, teams are allowed to keep 16 players on their practice roster, up from 14 just last year and 10 just a few years ago prior to COVID. The players on this roster are typically younger players that the team sees potential in and that they want to try and develop into active roster players.

The NFL also raised the number of players allowed on the practice roster with more than two accrued seasons (veterans) from 4 players to 6 players. The other 10 players must have less than two accrued seasons or have no more than two seasons on an active roster for more than 9 games of a season.

They have now raised the number of times a player can be elevated from the practice squad to the active roster for gamedays from two to three. Players can be elevated due to injuries or simply because of changes in the game plan for that week. Teams can also “protect” up to four players on their practice squad from being signed by other teams each week. The purpose of that is to ensure that you are able to hold on to a player that you are extremely interested in continuing to develop or possibly a veteran that you think could draw some interest. If another team wants to sign an unprotected player from your practice squad: that player must be added to their 53-man roster.

Got it now? Good.

There are going to be some tough decisions made by the Tampa Bay staff in the coming weeks. A few of those decisions have to be made by 4 pm this afternoon. This training camp roster is chock-full of talent, and there are going to be players “cut” from this team that will go on to play productive roles for other teams.

It’s a great “problem” to have.