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NFL waiver wire rules: How the claim system and priority order works

The NFL is cutting down to 53-man rosters by Tuesday afternoon. That will be followed by the running of the waiver wire. We break down how it works, who has top claim priority, and more.

A general view from the endzone of an Official Wilson “Duke” football and a pylon on the field before the Jacksonville Jaguars host the Indianapolis Colts at TIAA Bank Field on December 2, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

The NFL wrapped up the preseason on Sunday, August 29th, marking a change to the traditional approach. The league negotiated a 17th regular season game for each team and part of the trade-off was to remove one preseason game. Three weeks plus the Hall of Fame Game means we wrap up the full preseason slate a week before Labor Day.

In the past, teams would play their final preseason game this coming Thursday and then have final roster cuts due by 4 p.m. ET Saturday afternoon. This year, final roster cuts are due by 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday. Teams will use the PUP and NFI list to move players around, some players will end up on IR, and then we will see hundreds of players released.

The players that are released will not all be free to immediately sign with another team. The NFL’s waiver wire will run the day after roster cuts and a large number of players released on Tuesday will be available for claiming by any of the other 31 teams.

Is waivers like the fantasy football version?

Sort of. The common denominator is that the worst teams have the highest priority to claim players released by other teams. Additionally, when a player cuts a player they have last waiver priority for that particular player.

There are two ways in which the NFL waiver wire differs from the fantasy football waiver wire:

  1. Teams do not lose priority after they make a claim. If the team with the No. 1 waiver priority puts in three waiver claims, they will get all three players. In fantasy football, most leagues have a system where if a team successfully claims a player, they are moved to the bottom of the waiver priority.
  2. Some players are not eligible for the NFL waiver wire at this point and instead immediately become free agents. In fantasy football, any player released by a team goes through the waivers process.

Who goes through waivers?

Players with less than four years of accrued service time are subject to waivers. 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 same all season?

No. After the trade deadline passes on November 2, vested veterans will have 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 Wednesday, September 1 at noon ET.

How is waiver priority decided?

The waiver wire is ordered from worst to first. Following the Super Bowl until the day after the third regular season week, the priority order is the same order as the first round of that year’s NFL Draft. For 2021, that means the top ten waiver claims are as follows:

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars
  2. New York Jets
  3. Houston Texans
  4. Atlanta Falcons
  5. Cincinnati Bengals
  6. Philadelphia Eagles
  7. Detroit Lions
  8. Carolina Panthers
  9. Denver Broncos
  10. Dallas Cowboys

Once Week 3 Monday Night Football concludes, the waiver claim priority will be based reverse order of current league standings at the time.

What happens if a player is not claimed off waivers?

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

What does this mean for the practice squad?

Teams can begin signing their 16-man practice squad after the waiver wire runs. Teams can only sign a player to the practice squad after they have cleared waivers. If Team X does not want to keep Player A on their 53-man roster but does want to sign him to the practice squad, they have to cut him and hope he is not claimed on waivers.