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Started From The Bottom: Team Building From The Practice Squad Up

Started From The Bottom: Team Building From The Practice Squad Up

One of the most enjoyable parts of the job as General Manager of a football team is scouring for talent to improve the depths of your team down the stretch. Undoubtedly, the headlines will come from the prized free agents or the top draft picks, but the teams that remain sustainable and successful are able to find prime contributors for cheap. Ultimately, the way to do this throughout the season is by poaching from other teams practice squads as well as your own.

Every GM can tell stories of their successes and failures, but those that can mean the most to you are players who were given an opportunity and they made the most of it. During my time with the New York Jets, we were able to poach a very talented player from the Ravens practice squad by the name of Austin Howard. Howard was a former basketball player as well as a large, athletic and well-built OL. He fit the size we were looking for at the Jets for our tackle position. 

For those that worked for and with me, they know that every day we would go through a list of players on practice squads, street free agents and those deep within the depth of rosters to see how we could improve our current roster. When it came to Howard, we found him on the Ravens practice squad and knew he would be right for our roster. He was a 6-foot-7, 330-pound athletic OL with a multi-sport background and a great attitude. We brought him into our locker room and he ended up starting 32 games for us in 2 years. After the 2013 season, he hit FA and brought in a 5 year, $30M contract with the Raiders. This was a successful poach off of a practice squad and is what makes the position so much fun.

As we look back in the history of other situations similar to Howard, we find major contributors and even future HOFers. Most recently, players such as Rasul Douglas (Packers claimed off Cardinals’ PS) and Duke Johnson (brought up from Dolphins’ PS), have shown that players can be brought onto a successful team and thrive in their role. In previous years, Trevor Siemian, Cooper Rush and Sidney Jones all have made strong additions to their teams after spending time as a practice squad member. There will always be talent to be found, the hope is that your team is the one to find it.

Looking back even further, Cameron Wake was signed from the CFL with the Dolphins and Jason Peters was signed off the Bills PS by our very own Joe Banner. Peters and Wake went on to Hall of Fame or borderline Hall of Fame careers, but started their career with adversity by sitting in the wings and waiting. Great role players and contributors in Danny Amendola and Arian Foster started their extremely successful careers by moving from team to team and working with the practice team before being given their shot to succeed.

As we get towards the end of the season, teams like the Lions, Jets, Giants, Jaguars and Texans should be looking to improve their future rosters with high-end upside talent found on other teams, their own practice squads and street free agents. Some former high-end draft picks are sitting at home on Sundays. Possible late season additions are: Willie Snead, Nick Mullens, Mitchell Schwartz, Carson Green, Gareon Conley, Kerryon Johnson, Holton Hill, and Kenny Willekes. All are able to make a move towards playing on Sunday, and hope that they are the next success story from practice squad and free agency to gameday.