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

The NFL cut down rosters to 53 players on Tuesday, August 30. We break down waiver rules and who has priority for claiming waived players.

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 28th, marking the second straight year of the new preseason slate. With the new schedule instituted last year, most teams will play only three preseason games leading to a 17-game regular season. This also allows us a full week break between the preseason and the start of games that count.

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, August 30. Teams will use the PUP and NFI list to move players around, some players will end up on IR, and we will see over 800 players released.

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

Are waivers like the fantasy football version?

Sort of. The common denominator is that the worst teams have the highest priority in claiming players released by other teams. Additionally, when a team cuts a player, they have the 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 waiver process.

Who goes through waivers?

Players with fewer 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 do waivers run?

Waivers run 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, August 31 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 as the first round of that year’s NFL Draft before any draft pick trades were made. For 2022, that means the top ten waiver claims are as follows:

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars
  2. Detroit Lions
  3. Houston Texans
  4. New York Jets
  5. New York Giants
  6. Carolina Panthers
  7. Chicago Bears
  8. Atlanta Falcons
  9. Denver Broncos
  10. Seattle Seahawks

Once Week 3 Monday Night Football concludes, the waiver claim priority will be based on 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 players 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 directly to the practice squad, they have to cut him and hope he is not claimed on waivers.