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How the NFL waiver wire works: Rules, deadlines, priority order, more

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Here’s everything you need to know about the NFL’s waiver wire system.

NFL: Preseason-Buffalo Bills at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Cut day has come and gone and now all 32 NFL teams now sit with a comfortable 53-man roster. But the team building is far from over. With literally over 1,000 players now out of a job, it’s each general manager’s duty to scour the market and add players that could help their team.

However, there are rules to be had. Not every player can immediately join any team. That would be chaos. Instead, the NFL devised the waiver wire, which fantasy players are probably more than familiar with. But the rules aren’t all the same, so let’s break down exactly what the NFL waiver wire is.

What is the waiver wire?

The NFL waiver wire is a system to make sure that teams are given a fair shot at young players in the league that have been cut from another team. When a player is waived, there is a 24-hour period in which they are on “waivers.” Any NFL team that would like to add that player can then put in a claim, and after the waiver claim period is up, the team with the highest priority is awarded the player. He must immediately join their 53-man roster; he cannot be moved to a practice squad if claimed.

How is waiver wire priority determined?

From the first day of the league year until the conclusion of Week 3 of the regular season, waiver wire priority is determined by how teams finished the prior season—or to put simply, the draft order. This system is created this way to benefit teams that were really bad last year. The Cleveland Browns finished 1-15 last year, therefore they’ll have the No. 1 priority of any waived players until Week 3 of the season.

The Detroit Lions finished with the 21st pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, therefore their priority is 21. The Lions will only be able to add a player via waivers if the 20 teams in front of them pass.

Starting Week 4 of the regular season, waiver priority is determined by records of the current season. For example, if a team is 0-3 after three weeks, they’ll likely have the No. 1 waiver wire priority (pending tiebreakers).

Who is subject to the waiver wire?

Just because a player is released doesn’t mean they have to go through waivers. If a player has four or more accrued seasons, they are simply released of their current contract and immediately become a free agent able to sign with any team at any time.

But if a player has three or fewer seasons in the NFL, they must go through waivers. That’s why you’ll see some players listed as “released” (not subject to waivers) vs. “waived” (on waivers).

What does waived/injured mean?

A player who is “waived/injured” is subject to waivers all the same, but the team is notifying to the rest of the league that this player has suffered an injury. It is usually common courtesy for teams to let these player go through waivers unclaimed, but it is not against the rules to put in a claim.

If the player is claimed, he must go on the team’s 53-man roster, like usual. If unclaimed, the team that waived him has two options: either place the player on injured reserve or come to an injury settlement and allow them to become a free agent.

When must teams put in their claims by?

Normally, when a player is waived, teams have 24 hours to put in a claim. But it’s a little different during these 53-man cuts. Teams have until noon on Sunday to put in their waiver claims, even if a player wasn’t waived until the 4 p.m. ET deadline on Saturday.

At noon, teams will be notified of which players they were awarded then and which players went unclaimed.

Where does the practice squad fit in?

Any player eligible for the practice squad must first go through waivers to make the 10-man roster. If a player makes it unclaimed through waivers, he is then eligible to join the practice squad of any team he desires. Typically if there’s mutual interest, they’ll rejoin the team that waived them out of courtesy and familiarity, but it is not required.

If a player is claimed by a team, he may not go to their practice squad. To make it on their practice squad, he must be waived again and go unclaimed by all other teams.

For this weekend, teams can start adding unclaimed waived players to their practice squad starting at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.