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2020 NFL waiver wire rules: Deadlines, eligibility, priority order, practice squad limits

A look at how Sunday’s waiver wire transactions and practice squad acquisitions will work.

NFL: AUG 21 Detroit Lions Training Camp Photo by Allan Dranberg/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The first phase in roster building for the 2020 NFL season is over, but for many teams, this is just the beginning. Sure, the core of every team has been set with the 53-man roster cut downs on Saturday, but there are now nearly 1,000 players available to add for talent-hungry teams.

2020 is a season full of new rules, so things aren’t going to look the same in previous years. Practice squad rosters have increased in size, eligibility for the practice squad is different, and that could seriously alter how teams approach the waiver wire.

Everything is going to happen fairly quickly on Sunday, so here’s what you need to know about both the waiver wire and practice squad rules.

When?

For all the players that were waived on Friday and Saturday, teams must put in a waiver claim by noon E.T. on Sunday to be eligible to add said player. At noon, the league will then process the waiver claims by priority, and teams that are awarded a player will be immediately notified.

If a team is awarded a player on waivers, they have until exactly on hour—until 1 p.m. ET—to decide the corresponding move to fit them on their 53-man roster. There are no take-backsies. If you’re awarded a player, you have to accept them.

After all of those moves are made official at 1 p.m. ET, teams can then start filling out their practice squad with players that were unclaimed through waivers or vested veterans left unsigned.

How is waiver wire priority determined?

From now until Week 4 of the NFL season, waiver wire priority is based on 2019 standings—or the 2020 NFL Draft order (prior to trades). In other words, the Detroit Lions have the third priority. This means that if the Lions put in a waiver claim for any player, they will be awarded that player as long as the Bengals and the Washington Football Team didn’t put in a claim for that same player.

At the beginning of Week 4, waiver wire priority is decided by current NFL standings.

Waived vs. Released: Explained

Not every player cut over the weekend will be placed on the waiver wire. If a player has accrued four or more seasons, they are not subject to the waiver wire. They are “released,” meaning their contract is terminated and they are free to sign anywhere else immediately.

However, if the player has three or fewer accrued seasons, they are waived. No team can sign them immediately. They are put on the waiver wire where teams can put a claim on them until noon, and the team with the highest priority is awarded that player. If a waived player goes unclaimed by noon, their contract is terminated, and they become a free agent eligible to sign anywhere.

Practice squad changes

Size: The size of a practice squad has moved from 10 to 16 players, due to both the newly-signed Collective Bargaining Agreement and a special rule in place to protect teams from COVID-19. The expansion was supposed to only be to 12 this year, but due to concerns about the pandemic, the size was increased another four players.

Eligibility: This year, every single NFL player is eligible for the practice squad. Prior to 2020, only players with two or fewer accrued seasons were eligible. This year, however, six of the 16 spots can be filled by veterans with an unlimited amount of accrued season. Yes, that technically means Matthew Stafford is practice squad eligible.

Protected players: Prior to this year, if a player was on a practice squad, they could be “poached” by another team. In other words, another team can swoop in and sign another team’s practice squad player to their 53-man roster, as long as the player agrees to do so.

Teams are still allowed to do that in 2020, but the league is offering teams a little extra protection. A team can protect four players every week from being poached. Those players cannot sign to any other team’s 53-man roster.

But there is a catch here: Team cannot designate those four players until Tuesday. So from Monday until Tuesday’s designation deadline, no practice squad players are protected. We may see some early-week poaching from teams this year.

Lions head coach Matt Patricia explained how this protection isn’t really as helpful as it may seem.

“I think the protection really—so take post-game on a Monday morning. You come in, and you have injuries on your team. I think that’s really when most teams go out and they look at different practice squad players and who they’re going to add in for Wednesday’s practice. So, that protection really doesn’t kick in until after that. So, you still have that opportunity at the beginning of the week to kind of lose those types of players.”