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I recently read a few things about American Football, especially of course the NFL. In the news I often read that players get signed and waived again after just one week or a comparable short amount of time.

As an example, see the penultimate paragraph from this article on the official Seahawks website:

[Chase] Coffman was signed last week to provide depth at tight end following Jimmy Graham’s season-ending injury, but was inactive for Sunday’s game at Minnesota.

In this case the player did not even play. I believe that NFL players get paid on a weekly basis, so the shortest possible contract situation has to be a week.

I don't understand the point of doing something like that - the player earns at least $30,000 per week, and in this case only for attending practice. Isn't that a waste of money?

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In this particular case, the Seahawks had just lost TE Jimmy Graham for the season the week before, and as such needed to fill a spot for a TE. It seems like they signed one player, and then decided he wasn't a good fit, so moved on. They probably had to move quickly initially to get someone into practice right away, and so didn't have time to do a thorough job looking for a specific person - by the second week, they had more time to find the right person (or, two people, apparently).

This sort of thing is inevitable in the NFL, and happens frequently. Compared to Major League Baseball, replacing a player in the NFL is very complicated: there isn't a minor league to draw from, or a "system". There's a small practice squad, but that squad doesn't have very many players on it, so you often have to sign a free agent if you need to fill a spot.

However, NFL contracts are generally not guaranteed contracts - so there's very little cost to signing a player on a temporary basis. Teams will have a 53 man roster and 46 active players on gameday (7 inactive, which includes injured players who aren't sufficiently injured for the IR), so signing one guy and then cutting him to sign another guy doesn't really cost them anything: they'd still have that spot filled by someone, it's now just a different someone. I imagine there's a small cost in terms of paperwork and tax/etc. overhead (since NFL players make so much money, they hit the Social Security tax limit fairly quickly, even the lower paid players, so changing players every few games would have a higher tax bill) but that cost is insignificant compared to the hundreds of millions each team is making.

As far as why they want to make sure and have that full 53 man roster - even if a player is unlikely to contribute on offense, it's important to make sure you have a full set of players for special teams (And a 3rd string TE is very likely to be playing on special teams). While he wasn't activated, we don't know why that is; it may have been they just had him for insurance (in case someone got hurt), or it may have been that they wanted to use him but he didn't turn out to be talented enough or learn the system well enough.

Finally - don't discount the value of 'attending practice'. Having a full set of players for practice is important, so they can run plays - even if it means being on the 2nd string offense whose job it is to give the defense something to play against oftentimes. Being short a player means either a starter is doing a backup's job as well as his own, or they can't run plays as smoothly in practice. Plus of course the chance to see how good a player is.

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    Another possibility very related to your last paragraph would be to act as part of the scout team, if the player fit the characteristics of the team's next opponents. – Philip Kendall Dec 10 '15 at 18:25
  • Great answer, thank you! I got me to read much more about free agency and the other contract principles, which also helped me understand the reasoning a bit more. – pat3d3r Dec 11 '15 at 14:18
  • Also, @PhilipKendall, thanks for the comment, I did not think of that, but it makes tremendous sense now. – pat3d3r Dec 11 '15 at 14:20

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