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NFL waiver wire rules: How do waiver claims work and who gets priority?

The unfortunate part of the NFL preseason is the eventual cutting of nearly 40 plays from each roster. How does the waiver claim system work, and how do teams add players?

An NFL shield logo is painted on the field prior to an NFL preseason football game between the Carolina Panthers and the Detroit Lions at Bank of America Stadium on August 25, 2023 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

The NFL preseason marks a time of excitement as the six months without football are nearing an end. It isn’t all positive, as teams are allowed to roster 90 players in the preseason but have to cut down to a 53-man roster by the yearly roster cut-down day, which falls a few days after the final preseason game.

Teams can still use the PUP and NFI list to move players around, with others being added to IR. Still, there are about 800 players released every year, and they cannot sign with a team right away. The NFL’s waiver wire runs the day after, with many players released on Tuesday available for claiming by any of the other 31 teams.

I know the term waivers from fantasy football; is it the same thing?

Kind of. The similarities include the order of priority being set by the inverse of last year’s standings, i.e., the worst teams are at the top, and the best teams fall toward the bottom of the standings. Also, when a team releases a player, they have the last priority for that individual player.

There are two main ways in which the real-life NFL waiver order differs from fantasy football:

  1. Teams do not lose priority after they make a claim. So if you put in a claim on James Robinson and James Washington in fantasy football and you get Robinson, you then move to the last waiver spot on Washington. If the team with the No. 1 pick puts in a claim on three players, they will receive all three.
  2. Some players aren’t eligible for waivers and instead become free agents. Any player released, regardless of age or NFL tenure, will go through the waiver process for fantasy football.

So then, who is eligible for waivers?

Players are eligible for waivers if they have fewer than four years of accrued service time. If a player has more than four years — known as a “vested veteran”— they immediately become a free agent and can sign with any team, including the team that released them, if they are being brought back on the practice squad.

How long does this particular waiver system last in the season?

While the fantasy football waiver system is the same throughout the year, the NFL system changes. Once the trade deadline passes, vested veterans will go through waivers and not automatically become free agents.

When do waivers run?

Waivers run from the first business day after the Super Bowl through the end of the regular season.

How is the waiver order decided?

The waiver order is ordered from worst to first, as mentioned before. From the day after the Super Bowl to the start of the fourth week of the NFL season, the order is the same as the first round of that year’s NFL Draft. The order is not affected by any trades so if a draft pick is traded, the order considers the original holder of that selection. Once the final game of Week 3 is played, the waiver claim priority will be based on the reverse order of the current league standings and will continue to update throughout the regular season.

What is the waiver wire order to start the 2023 NFL season

  1. Chicago Bears
  2. Houston Texans
  3. Arizona Cardinals
  4. Indianapolis Colts
  5. Denver Broncos
  6. Los Angeles Rams
  7. Las Vegas Raiders
  8. Atlanta Falcons
  9. Carolina Panthers
  10. New Orleans Saints
  11. Tennessee Titans
  12. Cleveland Browns
  13. New York Jets
  14. New England Patriots
  15. Green Bay Packers
  16. Washington Commanders
  17. Pittsburgh Steelers
  18. Detroit Lions
  19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  20. Seattle Seahawks
  21. Miami Dolphins
  22. Los Angeles Chargers
  23. Baltimore Ravens
  24. Minnesota Vikings
  25. Jacksonville Jaguars
  26. New York Giants
  27. Dallas Cowboys
  28. Buffalo Bills
  29. Cincinnati Bengals
  30. San Francisco 49ers
  31. Philadelphia Eagles
  32. Kansas City Chiefs

What happens when a player clears waivers?

If players go unclaimed, they immediately become unrestricted free agents and can sign with any team.

What does this mean for each team’s practice squad?

Following roster cut-down day, teams can begin signing players to their 16-man practice squad after the waiver wire runs. Teams can only sign players to their respective practice squads once 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 directly to the practice squad, they have to waive him and hope he is not claimed on waivers.