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Explaining how the NFL works, Part 2: The waiver wire

Let’s examine the process of some of the inner workings in the NFL and how teams manage the situations.

New Orleans Saints v Pittsburgh Steelers

Whether it’s when the NFL is in the full swing of its regular season or if it’s during the downtime of the early summer, there still is constant news and happenings with the league that has made itself relevant 365 days a year. When various things are discussed, sometimes there are terminologies and procedures where fans might have a general understanding of things. Even the most die-hard fans may have certain areas they don’t understand exactly what various things mean and wish to have a better understanding.

Over the next few weeks, I will take some time to do my best in thoroughly explaining some of the various inner workings of things in the NFL. These are not on-field items but more from an administrative standpoint. Whether it be understanding the waiver wire, the Reserve/Injured List, or the breakdown of the practice squad, we’ll take a look at some of the various terms that are thrown around and utilized in descriptions of things in the NFL but may not be fully understood.

Now that we have a better understand of what it takes to have an accrued season, let’s dive into the process of when a player is placed on waivers.

The Waiver Wire

This was initially going to be the first part of the series but the need to explain accrued seasons at a player being a vested veteran had to be stated first. When a player is cut from the roster, whether or not they are waived or released depends on their status in the NFL. If a player is not a vested veteran, meaning they do not have four accrued seasons in the NFL, they are subject to waivers no matter the time of year. If a player is a vested veteran, they are released and can sign with anybody immediately with a small exception during the course of the NFL season. But they’ll be more on that later.

When a player is cut and placed on waivers, every NFL franchise has the opportunity to inherit the player’s contract. The Steelers have done this twice so far this offseason with punter Braden Mann and defensive lineman Manny Jones.

While the player is on waivers, generally a 24-hour period ending at 4 PM the next business day, every team has a chance to put in a claim. The exception to the 24-hour rule is when a player is released over a game weekend as that waiver period expires at 4 PM the day following the final game of the weekend. Additionally, the waiver period after teams cut their rosters down to 53 players to start a season ends at noon the following day. If multiple teams put in a waiver claim, the team who is awarded the player depends on their waiver priority

Waiver priority

A team’s waiver priority is determined very similar to how teams are ranked for the NFL draft. It is based on the team’s record and multiple tiebreakers as to where they sit in the waiver priority. When the regular season ends, the waiver priority is throughout the offseason. This order also carries into the first several weeks of the next season until the NFL kicks in the current records determining the waiver order which happens following Week 3 of the season.

Veterans on waivers

While non-vested veterans end up on waivers anytime they are cut, veterans also land on the waiver wire if they are released during the season following the NFL trade deadline. The idea behind this is so a team who is no longer in playoff contention can’t release a player to go specifically sign with a given team because a trade could not be worked out in time. Since veterans land on waivers, every team would have the opportunity to have the player for the rest of the season by putting in the waiver claim. Once again, the waiver priority is set based on the teams with the worst record having top priority so it would be difficult for a player to land on one of the more contending teams. But one other thing that has to be taken into consideration is that when a player is claimed their exact contract goes with them.

This idea came into effect in 2019 when the Steelers released Donte Moncrief. Because there were compensatory factors involved which are no longer in play under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Steelers needed to release Moncrief in order to keep the draft pick where they selected Alex Highsmith. Because Moncreif was a vested veteran, the Steelers would have been on the hook for the remainder of Moncrief‘s contract for the rest of the season. Instead, Moncrief was claimed off waivers by the Carolina Panthers and the Steelers were off the hook for his remaining salary.


Another designation when it comes to waivers is when a player is released with a waived/injured designation. This occurs when a player is not a vested veteran and would typically be susceptible to the waiver wire. The only difference is that the team is notifying the league that the move was due to the player being injured. Teams would still have the opportunity to claim the player and take on their contract. If the player is not claimed off waivers, they are awarded back to the original team to where they are then able to work out an injury settlement or place the player on the Reserve/Injured List (IR). There will be more detail into this topic in a later article that looks at players on IR.

In case you missed Part 1 of the series, it can be seen here: