By Tony Softli

NFL teams may open training camp with up to the 80 player limit. There are two cut down deadlines that clubs prepare for. The deadline for trimming the fat to 75 is August 31st. Teams must make the final cut down to the 53 man roster limit by September 4th at 3PM (4PM Eastern).

A good personnel department begins the roster analysis in January. Street free agents are signed, and these free agents are called “Futures”. Teams take a chance on Futures to fill hot spots and create competitiveness within the depth, and build up the back end of the roster.

Then college scouting departments gear up for the annual NFL Draft. The first order of business as far as the draft is concerned is the NIC (National Invitational Camp) or Combine held in Indianapolis in February. Pro scouting departments prep the coaching staffs for the free agency period, which begins in March.

Once the Draft has concluded and free agency ends, rookie mini-camp and off season workout programs get under way. This period is called OTA’s (Organized Team Activity). These team activities involve coaching sessions and conditioning drills. These sessions prepare the team for Mini-Camp, Training Camp and Preseason.

There are several avenues taken by NFL clubs to remove players from the 80 man roster. The process is governed by the NFL league offices Player Personnel Department. First players are waived, meaning they no longer have a contractual agreement with that current team, allowing them to seek employment with another club.

Secondly, injured players can be placed on "Reserve/Injured" or IR. Once on this listing, they are lost for the remainder of the season (the club retains the rights of that player). Once on IR, players are prohibited from practicing, but have responsibility of rehabbing any injury they sustained. They are required to attend daily classroom sessions and meetings on a daily basis. There are those in the league who feel teams still use IR illegally, stashing players who weren't really injured to circumvent the rules on roster limits - gaining a competitive advantage - while building a firm foundation for the future.

When finalizing the 53 man roster, players fall under several other categories, Retired List, League Suspension and PUP. Players that have come to the end of their career mail in the proper paper work into the league office.

League suspensions are carried out during the regular season to penalize player salaries. A prime example of this is the Ben Roethlisberger suspension that will start with the first game of 2010 season. He will not receive game checks during this period, and is not allowed to work out with team or come around the Pittsburgh facility.

And then there’s the Physically Unable to Perform or "PUP” list. If a player starts training camp on the PUP list, they can be moved to the active roster at any time, even after one practice. A player is not allowed to be placed on the PUP list if they start training camp on the active roster, even if they take part in only the first few minutes of the first practice.

Say a player begins the regular season on the PUP list. He must sit out his team's first six games. After that point, a team has three weeks to activate him once the player starts practice. If the player is not activated by that time, or if he does not begin practicing within that three week window, he must remain on the PUP list for the remainder of the season or be moved to the Reserve/Injured listing.

A lot goes into the process of cutting a team from 80 to 53. It starts with evaluation of practice sessions and preseason games. There are long staff meetings with coaches and scouts fighting for players. Most teams break down the roster by groupings, with the amount of players within the group needed to form the 53 man roster.

For example Offense: QB 3, RB 4, FB 1, TE 3, WO 6, OL 9 (26) Defense: DL 8, LB 7, DB 9 (24) Special Teams: Kicker, Punter, Snapper (3) = 53 These numbers can be moved around, example if you want to keep four TE, and five WO.

The formula I use is simple. I rank the team from 1-60, from the best players to the worst, Blue to Green. Blue players are difference makers with blue production, Red players are starters and heavy contributors, Orange Players are back-up special teamers with limited production and Green players are high percentage of free agents that won’t make the team. I pick the starting eleven on offense and defense. That’s 22 players. Add the second string players and you get 44. I then add a Kicker, Punter and snapper to bring the total to 47. Once I get to 47, I then choose six players I just could not go without to bring the total to 53.

After each team has finalized its 53-man roster, every team in the league has 24 hours to sign any player who has been waived. Once this 24-hour period has passed, each team may sign up to eight players to form its practice squad. These eight players practice with the team, but they are ineligible to participate in games unless they are added to the official 53-man roster (in the place of another player, of course). Teams may sign a player from another team's practice squad only if they immediately add the player to the 53-man roster.

For each NFL game, only 45 players can be listed as active, or eligible to participate in the game. In addition, each team may designate one player outside the 45-man list, as an emergency backup. This is saved for the third quarterback, and he may play only in the event of injuries to the first- and second-string QBs.