ITP Glossary: NFL Waiver System

Football is littered with specialized terminology. From punt gunner to climbing the pocket, commentators rarely get to explain everything you need to know before the next play. Inside The Pylon’s glossary was developed to give fans a deeper understanding of the game through clear explanations, as well as image and video examples. Please contact us with any terms or phrases you’d like to know more about.

NFL Waiver System

The NFL waiver system allows the contracts of certain released players to be claimed by another team. If a player is subject to waivers, they can have their contract claimed by any of the other 31 teams following their release, dependent on certain conditions, instead of reaching free agency. If a player goes unclaimed the player is a free agent who can sign with any team.

For the most part, all players with fewer than four credited seasons who are released will be subject to waivers. One important distinction is that the waivers process uses the definition of “credited season” found in the NFL retirement plan and not the CBA. All players released after the trading deadline, regardless of credited seasons, are subject to waivers and having their contract claimed. For example, Ben Tate was waived on November 18, 2014, by the Cleveland Browns. Even though he had four credited seasons in the NFL he had to go through waivers because he was released after the trade deadline. The Minnesota Vikings claimed him off waivers the next day, preventing him from reaching free agency.

Players who have multiple years remaining on their contract at the time of release may not have to serve all of the remaining years for the team that claimed them. If the player has a “no-trade clause,” they may declare themselves an Unrestricted Free Agent at the end of the league year. Those without said clause can declare themselves an Unrestricted Free Agent at the “end of the league year following the league year they were waived and awarded’.” For example, a player with five credited seasons and three remaining contract years who is claimed via waivers in 2016 will have the ability to void the 2018 year of their contract.

A team that claims the player is responsible for any future guarantees included in the player contract. Teams are not required to pay any signing bonus proration nor will those figures be included on its salary cap, though those will count as dead money against the salary cap of the team that released the player.

For most of the season and offseason, a player remains on waivers for 24 hours. From the day following the Super Bowl until the day after the third regular season weekend, the team with the highest draft pick in the previous NFL Draft will be awarded any player if two teams have chosen the same waived player. After three games are complete the player will go to the team with the worse record in the current year.

While teams track players on waivers each day of the season, the most active time for waiver claims is at the 53 cut, where hundreds of players become available and teams will use this mechanism to provide additional depth to the backend of their 53 man roster. A good example of this is when the New York Giants claimed Domenik Hixon and Madison Hedgecock during their Super Bowl XLII run.

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Jason Fitzgerald at Over The Cap (@Jason_OTC) and Ryan Dukarm (@DBRyan_Dukarmcontributed to this entry.


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