How Does the NFL’s Waiver System Work?

Ozzie Scouting

As the third week of the NFL preseason comes to a close for many teams, the time has come to start making the first round of roster cuts.  Teams have until 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday to reduce their present “active” rosters from 90 players down to 75.

When viewing the NFL waiver wire, there are four 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 four 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 Tuesday can be claimed by another team by 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday.  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 free agent, 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 the Tuesday after Week 8 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.  Up until the final cutdown date, injured players with less than four 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.

It is important to keep in mind that injury waivers only apply during the offseason, up until the final cutdown date.  So, as of the final cutdown date, a player with less than four 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 financial responsibility for a player on IR.

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About Brian McFarland

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...more

5 Raves on “How Does the NFL’s Waiver System Work?

  1. raven guy on said:

    Yeah – nice article. The CBA contracts are pretty arcane. I would like to see an article on rookie contracts. What happens if the rookie and team cant agree on terms? Can he sign with another team? What can agent do for a rookie?

  2. Voice of Reason on said:

    That’s a good question Raven Guy. A great player not coming to terms with their rookie contracts hasn’t really happened to my knowledge, so it seems like doing so is kind of like a Mark of Cain for the players, or has disastrous consequences for their careers.

  3. Rookie with no contract on said:

    If a player doesn’t agree to a contract with the team he drafted, he must sit out until the next draft where he’s able to be drafted again (like Bo Jackson and Tampa Bay), there’s been another D-Lineman in the 80′s that happened to (I think the Bengals).

    If the second draft and the player can’t agree to a contract by the trade deadline, I’m pretty sure he’s a free agent, but it hasn’t happened twice.

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