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2019 NFL waiver wire rules: How it works, who’s eligible, priority order

A quick refresher on the NFL’s waiver wire rules.

Detroit Lions v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

All 32 NFL teams reduced their roster to 53 players on Saturday, setting the stage for the 2019 NFL season. But Sunday is the second wave of roster construction in the lead up to Week 1. With over 1,000 players now looking for new jobs, NFL general managers have likely spent the past week thinking about the new talent they could add to their roster. Starting at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, they’ll be able to acquire new talent via the waiver wire system. Here’s a quick refresher on how that all works.


From cutdown time at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday until noon on Sunday, teams can put in a waiver wire request for all players that were waived on either Friday or Saturday. After all claims are received, the league looks over every claim and the team with the highest priority for each player claimed on the waiver wire is awarded the player. That process begins at noon on Sunday.

How is waiver wire priority determined?

Priority is simply determined by the 2018 NFL standings or, more simply, the 2019 NFL Draft order (prior to trades). Therefore the Detroit Lions are eighth in priority order, meaning as long as none of the teams higher in priority put in a claim for their desired player, they will be awarded that player.

What’s the difference between waived and released?

Players are “waived” if they have fewer than four years of experience in the NFL. Those players are placed on the waiver wire and subject to claims. If they go unclaimed in 24 hours, they become unrestricted free agents free to sign anywhere (including practice squads, if eligible). In most cases, we’re talking about players drafted in the past three or four years (though there are some exceptions).

However, if a player has four or more accrued seasons in the NFL, they are not waived, they are released. That means they are immediately free agents free to sign wherever they choose. For example, Tom Savage has been in the league since 2014, so he was released on Saturday. Teams do not have put in a waiver claim for him. They can sign him immediately. These players obviously have more freedom to choose where to play next.

What about practice squad?

Teams can start adding players to their 10-man practice squad at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday. Players can only be added to the practice squad if they have gone unclaimed through waivers. You cannot move a player on your 53-man roster to the practice squad. They must be waived first and go unclaimed through the waiver wire process.

There’s also a complicated set of rules about who is eligible for the practice squad, but to make things simple, here are three eligible kind of players:

  • Method 1: Rookies or other very young players who have no accrued seasons (have not been on a 53-man roster for 6+ weeks in a single season).
  • Method 2: Young players with up to two accrued seasons, neither of which included 9+ weeks where they were on the 46-man active gameday roster.
  • Method 3: The exception where four designated players can have up to two accrued seasons with the number of 46-man active gameday roster weeks in Method 2 ignored.

Players on the practice squad are not necessarily safe from other teams, however. If a practice squad player is desired by a new team, they can sign them to their 53-man roster if they come to an agreement. However, many times when a team tries to do this, the player will notify the team they’re currently on and request a pay raise to stay, as they don’t have to join the team trying to add them to the 53-man roster.

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