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Explaining how the NFL waiver wire works

The NFL is going through roster cuts this week, and that means the waiver wire comes into focus. We break down how it works, who has top claim priority, and more.

A general view of a NFL official Wilson Duke football with metallic shield lgoo introduced for the 2020 season at Los Angeles Rams training camp at Cal Lutheran University. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL regular season is less than one week away, and we are at the time of the year where all 32 teams will be forced to cut their rosters down to 53 players. That needs to take place by 4:00 p.m. PT on Saturday, September 5. Teams will use injured reserve, the PUP list, and the NFI list to clear roster space, but we’ll also see hundreds of players released to hit the open market.

Although hundreds of players will be cut, not all of them will immediately be free to sign with another team. The NFL’s waiver wire will run after roster cuts and a large chunk of players released will be available for claiming by any of the other 31 teams.

Is waivers like the fantasy football version?

In some ways, yes. The commonality is the worst teams have the highest priority to claim players that are released by other teams. Additionally, when a team cuts a player, they are last in waiver priority for that specific player. The differences from fantasy football include:

  • Teams don’t lose their priority after a claim. If the team with the highest priority puts in 5 claims, they will get all 5 players. In fantasy football, once you successfully claim a player, you move to the bottom of the priority.
  • Not all players are required to go through waivers, while in fantasy football, every released player goes through waivers.

Who goes through waivers?

Players with less than four years of accrued service time are subject to the waiver process. A player with at least four years of accrued service time, referred to as a “vested veteran” immediately becomes a free agent and is eligible to sign with any other team.

Is this the case all season?

No. After the trade deadline passes in October, vested veterans are also required to go through waivers if released.

When does waivers run?

Waivers runs throughout the league year from the first business day after the Super Bowl through the end of the regular season. The first time it runs after the coming roster cuts is Sunday, September 6 at noon ET. Teams have until 4 p.m. ET on Saturday to make their cuts. any player released after 4 p.m. on Friday through the 4 p.m. roster cuts on Saturday will be eligible for claiming on Sunday. Teams have until noon ET to put in their claims, after which the league assigns claimed players to their new teams.

How is waiver priority decided?

The waiver wire is meant to help the worst teams, so the worst teams get top priority. From the first business day after the Super Bowl until the day after the third regular season week, assignments are based on a claiming order that is the same as the order in which clubs selected in that year’s Draft. This year, that means the top ten waiver claims are as follows:

  1. Cincinnati Bengals
  2. Washington
  3. Detroit Lions
  4. New York Giants
  5. Miami Dolphins
  6. Los Angeles Chargers
  7. Carolina Panthers
  8. Arizona Cardinals
  9. Jacksonville Jaguars
  10. Cleveland Browns

After Week 3 wraps, the priority is based on reverse order of league standings.

What happens if a player is not claimed off waivers?

That player immediately becomes a free agent and can sign with any team.