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How Does The NFL’s Waiver System Work?

Salary Cap How Does The NFL’s Waiver System Work?

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As the third week of the NFL preseason comes to a close, the time has come for teams to make their first round of roster cuts. Teams have until 4:00 p.m. on Monday to reduce their present rosters of 90 players down to 75.

When viewing the NFL waiver wire, there are 4 designations that come into play, each with different ramifications.  Often, these designations are confused when reported in the press or simply labeled with the generic moniker “cut”, but there are different ramifications of each designation.

1.  Players with less than 4 years of service time are “waived” and are subject to waivers.  The waiver period in the NFL is 24 hours.  So, a player waived on Monday can be claimed by another team by 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday.  If multiple teams place a waiver claim on the same player, the player is awarded to the team with the highest waiver priority (the reverse order of the standings, worst to first).  If a player goes unclaimed, he clears waivers and is a FA, free to sign wherever he can find work.

2.  Players with 4+ seasons of service time are “released”.  These players, known as “vested veterans”, do not pass through waivers and are free agents immediately, free to sign with any other team.

These rules apply until the trade deadline (presently week 6 of the NFL season).  After the trade deadline (until the start of the next league year in March), all players – whether a vested veteran or a non-vested veteran – are subject to the waiver process.

3.  Injured players with 4+ seasons of service time can be immediately placed on Injured Reserve (IR).

4.  Prior to, and including, the first cutdown date, injured players with less than 4 years of service cannot go onto IR until they pass through waivers.  Those players are released with the “waived/injured” designation.  Known as “injury waivers”, this process exposes the player to waivers, but warns other teams that the player is injured.  If the player clears injury waivers, the team can then either place the player on IR or agree to an injury settlement (paying the player for the weeks that he is expected to be recovering from his injury) and then release the player.

Injury waivers only applies during the offseason up through the first cutdown date.  After the first cutdown, a player with less than 4 years of service time can be placed directly on IR, although some teams will still use the “waived-injured” designation, hoping that another team will claim the player, thereby relieving them of the financil responsibility for a player on IR.

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Brian McFarland

About Brian McFarland

Known on Ravens Message Boards as "B-more Ravor", Brian is a life-long Baltimorean and an avid fan of the Ravens and all Baltimore sports.  A PSL holder since 1998, Brian has garnered a reputation as a cap-guru because of his strange (actually warped) desire to wade through the intricacies of the NFL's salary cap and actually make sense of it for those of us who view it as inviting as IRS Tax Code.      Brian, who hails from Catonsville, MD and still resides there, is married and has two children. More from Brian McFarland
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