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Explaining how clubs get rosters to 53, which is up next around NFL

It won't be long now before NFL player cuts come rolling in. Every team has to be prepared to react to the influx of players on the market as well as keeping the right 53 on their own roster.

With each team starting out with 90 players on its preseason roster, that means 592 men have to get removed from the potential 53 men rosters. From that group, approximately 128 will get practice-squad contracts leaving 464 to go somewhere besides the active roster. Those 128 practice squad players technically will be free agents getting paid by a club and could sign with another club at any time as long as they are on the active roster of the new team. Teams will look closely at potential practice squad players from other clubs based on their college scouting grades and their preseason pro grade.

Based on the recent history of players placed on the injured reserve to start the season, another 65 will head to that list and be done for the season. Most IR players will be at full pay and the rest will go to the lower salary of a split contract. That pares the free agent pool down to about 400. Recent history suggests another 65 players will take an injury settlement from the original club and hit the open market as damaged goods but nonetheless be eligible to sign with another club. Most will have to wait until they can prove to be healthy. Now the free agent list of healthy players is down to 335.

Approximately 20 players will be classified as physically unable to perform (PUP), but they are not part of the free-agent pool; as well as players serving suspensions, retired or on the non-football injury list. In the end, each club is cutting about 21 players who could be claimed or signed based on the number of years of service.

For teams in search of more talent or trying to patch a hole in the roster because of a recent injury, this is the best alternative personnel pool left before the season starts.

The pro personnel directors around the league have worked all summer to get a grip on this potential list of 335 men for an immediate decision as well as adding to his emergency list for the season.

There is a salary cap in place which might suggest a significant number of veterans will be released, but the average team is sitting with a little over $8 million in cap space. So, generally, teams don't have to cut to get under the cap.

New England just cut veteran DT Jonathan Fanene after giving him a $3.7 million signing bonus. The Patriots have over $11 million in salary cap space and didn't worry about the financial ramifications of the release.

Get ready for some personnel fireworks over the next 10 days.


Pat Kirwan has been around the league since 1972, serving in a variety of roles. He was a scout for the Cardinals and Buccaneers, a coach for the Jets as well as the team's Director of Player Administration where he negotiated contracts and managed the team's salary cap. He is the author of Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, and the host of Sirius NFL Radio's Moving the Chains.
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