How do waivers work in the NFL? What does it mean for a player to be on waivers?

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During the 2021 NFL season we heard a lot about waivers, but how do they work? What is the difference between the term and “release” and do they change during the regular season? Let us guide you through the different terms and definitions.

Waiver vs release

In many cases, you will notice that various news shows or publications, as well as the NFL itself, interchange the terms “waiver” and “release”. It’s important to note, however, that they are definitely not the same thing. When an NFL team cuts a player, they are either lifted or released. A player who has accumulated less than four years of seasons in the NFL is exempt. On the other hand, a player with four or more cumulative seasons is released. As for what an “accumulated season” means, in its simplest form, this refers to a year in which a player spends at least six weeks on a team’s 53-player roster.

When a player is renounced, his contract is not yet terminated. In effect, they go on the “waiver thread”, making them available to be “claimed” by other teams. If another team is actually claiming the player, then he joins that team with the terms of his current contract. If no team claims him within a set period – stereotypically before noon the next day – his contract is terminated and he becomes an unrestricted free agent. If a player is released, his contract is terminated with immediate effect and he must sign with the team of his choice from that moment.

To see an example, take a look at the tweet below. We see that Breshad Perriman, who has accumulated five seasons, has been released. In contrast, the other eight cups were canceled because none had accumulated more than three seasons in the NFL.

How does the waiver thread work?

When a player is on waivers, any team can “claim” him if they wish to add him to their roster. The team with the highest waiver thread priority acquires the player then is responsible for integrating the player into his list of 53 players.

Relinquished / hurt?

When an NFL team gives up on an injured player, they are essentially informing the league that the player is currently suffering from an injury. It will of course go through the same waiver process as mentioned above., which means any team can file a claim for him, however, if he isn’t, he reverts to the original team’s injury reserve list. At this point, the original team can choose to keep him or release him directly with an injury settlement.

Who has the highest waiver thread priority?

During the offseason, the priority of waiver transfers is determined by the draft order – before exchanges. We can again use the Detroit Lions to illustrate an example in the 2021 NFL season. The Lions had the seventh priority. It should be noted, however, that the priority of waiver threads changes throughout the season. After Week 3 of the regular season, the priority of the waiver thread directly matches the current NFL rankings. Thus, the teams with a worse record will logically have the highest priority.

What happens after the trade deadline?

At the end of the trade deadline, each player cut must go through exemptions without exception. That is, the process even applies to veterans with over four years of league experience.



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