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Explaining The NFL Waiver Wire

I received this question in the GGN mailbag, but I thought it would make a good topic for an article.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Here is the question from esteemed GGN member JocaT3

I'd like to see an explanation of how the waiver system works

Because by my count, the Bucs have had first crack at no less than 3 players that they've gotten to claim. Clearly the system doesn't work the same as it does in fantasy football.

The Waiver system is one that is designed to promote equality, and to an extent it does. However to answer one of your questions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the #1 priority and they will continue to have that regardless of the fact they've been awarded a player. It doesn't work like fantasy football where once you claim a player you go to the bottom of the list. That's why you will see the Bucs have first crack at a lot of players this season.

Who Is Subject To Waivers

Players who have accrued 4 seasons are not exposed to the waiver wire and they immediately become free agents upon release.  An accrued season is defined as a season where the player has been on the 53 man roster for a minimum of 6 games. Any player who's accrued 4 seasons of action is considered a "vested veteran" and they are allowed the privilege of choosing their next team thanks to bypassing the waiver system. However this is only true up to week 8 of the regular season. After the week 8 trade deadline, any player who is released has to clear waivers first, it doesn't matter if you're a rookie or a 10 year veteran.

How is the Priority Determined

Now this is extremely simple. The team with the worst record from the 2014 season will have the #1 waiver priority for the 2015 season, in this years case it's Tampa Bay. The order for the waiver wire is determined by reversing the NFL standings from the previous season, so with Tampa having #1, Tennessee having #2. It's basically the draft order as it should have been.

How Long Does It Last

The waiver period is 24 hours and the deadline is usually 4pm the next day. So if a player gets waived on Monday, teams have until 4pm on Tuesday to claim that player. Teams will submit their claim to the league office and the league will then inform the team who have been successful, which is the team with the higher waiver priority. If nobody claims the player within 24 hours, he is then deemed a free agent and can sign with any team he likes.


Up until the final roster cut-down date, players who have suffered an injury and accrued less than 4 years service can not just be placed on IR by their team. For example, Zach Sudfeld has only been in the league for 3 years (2 years with 6 games, so he only has 2 accrued seasons under the waiver system), so the Jets were unable to just place him on IR. Had he had 4 years, we could have placed him on IR without having to expose him to waivers. If he makes it through waivers, I fully expect the Jets to place him on IR.