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Countdown To Cutdown: How The NFL Waiver Wire System Works

The Denver Broncos will play their 3rd preseason game this Sunday Night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Shortly thereafter, the roster needs to be trimmed to 75(after yesterday's moves, I have the roster at 76).  The final cuts are due on September 4th.  That brings in to question the NFL's Waiver system.  The waiver system is important since players the Broncos are hoping to put onto their practice squad will need to clear waivers before that move can be made.

With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at several aspects of the Cut-Down process, all that is involved,and of course, who I think will make the team.  That series starts today with a deeper look at the Waiver-wire.

What is the waiver-wire system?  It's the way that the NFL manages released players who have four or less accrued seasons in the league.

Once players are cut by a team, they are eligible to be signed first by the team with the worst record in the previous season (in this case the Rams), then the second worst and so on until you get to the best NFL team. So if a player is cut and the Rams don't put a waiver out on him, he's eligible to be signed by the Lions, and then the Buccaneers and so on. Of course, the team that signs him can't go over the 53-man roster limit so they may have to make cuts as well to make room.

The Broncos fell victim to the NFL's  waiver-wire system when the tried to place S Josh Barrett on I/R with a shoulder injury.  Because of Barrett's accrued time, he was required to pass through waivers FIRST.  That allowed any team in the League to have the opportunity to claim him, which the Patriots did.  The only option the Broncos had was to keep Barrett on the 80-man roster until the end of the preseason.  With all the injuries, the Broncos had little choice.

Back to the explanation.

If a waived player is picked up by a team and then released again, he goes through the waiver wire process all over again.

Only players with four or fewer accrued NFL seasons enter the waiver wire. The definition of an accrued season: 6 or more regular-season games in one season in which a player is on the 53-man protected roster, IR list or PUP list.

Players who have completed more than four accrued seasons automatically become free agents if they are let go at this point in the season.

This waiver wire order is reset at the end of September to reflect the current worst win/loss records in the league.

I hope this explanation clears things up for those that weren't sure.  Let's look at the official language of the Waiver wire system, for those that love the language of the law.



Section 1. Release:
   (a)      Whenever a player who has finished the season in which his fourth year of credited service has been earned under the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle Plan is placed on waivers between February 1 and the trading deadline, his contract will be considered terminated and the player will be completely free at any time thereafter to negotiate and sign a Player Contract with any Club, and any Club shall be completely free to negotiate and sign a Player Contract with such player, without penalty or restriction, including, but not limited to, Draft Choice Compensation between Clubs or First Refusal Rights of any kind, or any signing period. If the waivers occur after that time, the player’s Player Contract will be subject to the waiver system and may be awarded to a claiming Club. However, if such player is claimed and awarded, he shall have the option to declare himself an Unrestricted Free Agent at the end of the League Year in question if he has a no-trade clause in his Player Contract. If such player does not have a no-trade clause and the Player Contract being awarded through waivers covers more than one additional season, the player shall have the right to declare himself an Unrestricted Free Agent as set forth above at the end of the League Year following the League Year in which he is waived and awarded.
   (b)      Whenever a player who has finished less than the season in which his fourth year of credited service has been earned under the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle Plan is placed on waivers, the player’s Player Contract will be subject to the waiver system and may be awarded to a claiming Club. 

Section 2. Contact:  Coaches or any other persons connected with another NFL Club are prohibited from contacting any player placed on waivers until such time as the player is released by the waiving Club. 

Section 3. Ineligibility:  Any NFL player who is declared ineligible to compete in a preseason, regular season or postseason game because of a breach by any NFL Club by whom he is employed of waiver procedures and regulations, or any other provision of the NFL Constitution and Bylaws, will be paid the salary or other compensation which he would have received if he had not been declared ineligible, which, in any event, will be a minimum of one week’s salary and, when applicable, expense payments. 

Section 4. Notice of Termination:  The Notice of Termination form attached hereto as Appendix G will be used by all Clubs. If possible, the Notice of Termination will be personally delivered to the player prior to his departure from the team. If the Notice of Termination has not been personally delivered to the player prior to his departure from the team, the Notice of Termination will be sent to him by certified mail at his last address on
file with the Club. 

Section 5. NFLPA’s Right to Personnel Information:  The NFL shall inform the NFLPA of player personnel transactions communicated in the Personnel Notice between the NFL and its member Clubs concerning the termination or trading of players including awards on waivers, termination through waivers, confirmation of trades or any change in the status of players (e.g., placed on Reserve Injured, etc.). The NFL will make best efforts to communicate the information referred to in this Article to the NFLPA on the same day, but in no event later than noon on the next day. A player who is terminated shall, upon request at or around the time of termination, be informed by the terminating Club of any claims made upon him by NFL Clubs during that League Year. The same information will be provided to the NFLPA if requested. 

Section 6. Rosters:  The NFLMC shall supply the NFLPA with an opening day and final roster for each Club. Rosters shall consist of the following categories of players: Active; Inactive; Reserve Injured; Reserve Physically Unable to Perform; Exempt Commissioner Permission; Non Football Illness/Injury; Practice Squad. 

Section 7. Procedural Recall Waivers:  A player with four or more Credited Seasons who is subject to procedural recall waivers from the Reserved/Retired or Reserve/Military status, and who opts for Free Agency in lieu of assignment, cannot, during the same season, re-sign or return to the Club that originally requested such waivers.

Tomorrow we'll take a look at a part of the roster tied very closely to the Waiver system - the NFL's practice squad.