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NFL waiver wire rules: How it works, who’s eligible, 2018 priority order

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A look at the NFL’s waiver wire rule and how it applies to the 2018 Detroit Lions.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the initial roster cuts are over, it’s time to look towards the crowded waiver wire. Per the NFL transaction list, nearly 1,000 players were waived on Saturday alone. That’s a ton of players for teams to try and stash on their own rosters, if desired.

But if several teams want a player, who gets him? Several cut players were “released” not “waived.” What does that mean? And when do players get claimed?

We’re going to answer all those questions right now.

What is the waiver wire and how does it work?

When a player is cut from a team, but they don’t have four years of accrued seasons in the NFL, they are officially “waived.” That means they do not immediately become free agents. They, instead, are put on waivers for a select period of time—typically 24 hours, but it may be longer if it’s a weekend.

While a player is on waivers, any NFL team can put in a claim for them. At the end of the waiver period for that player, of the teams that put in a waiver claim for the player, the one with highest priority gets rights to him.

If a player goes unclaimed they are officially a free agent free to go anywhere. Teams can also sign unclaimed players to their practice squads. However, if you claim a player via waivers, he must go on your 53-man roster.

How is it different from released players?

Veteran players with four or more seasons played in the league are not subject to waivers. If they get cut, they are “released” and immediately become free agents free to sign wherever they please.

For example, of the six players we think the Lions should sign after cut day, Brian Robison, Marquis Flowers and Michael Johnson are all 4+ year veterans and are now free agents. However, the rest of the crew has been waived and must go through waivers first.

Of the players the Lions cut this year, the only ones not subject to the waiver wire are Jonathan Freeny, Wesley Johnson, Sean McGrath, DeShawn Shead, Cam Johnson, Dexter McDougle, and Sterling Moore.

2018 waiver priority

As previously mentioned, if there are players that have multiple teams putting in a waiver claim for them, they are awarded to the team with the highest priority. From now until Week 3 of the regular season, waiver priority is simply determined by 2018 NFL Draft order (before trades). So the Cleveland Browns have highest priority, the Philadelphia Eagles have lowest priority, while the Detroit Lions are 20th in line.

After Week 4 of the regular season, waiver priority is determined by NFL standings—the worst teams have the highest priority.

Claiming deadline

For roster cuts weekend, teams must put in their waiver claims by 12 p.m. ET on Sunday, September 2. The NFL will announce which teams were awarded which players shortly thereafter.