By Brian McFarland
How Does the NFL’s Waiver System Work?
Upon the completion of the 3rd Preseason game, “the Turk” arrives, as teams have to make their first cut down of the preseason. Teams have until 4:00 p.m. on the Tuesday after the 3rd Preseason game to reduce their “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 first 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 first cutdown date. So, as of the first 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.