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2023 NFL roster cuts explainer: Deadlines, practice squad rules, more

A full explanation of how the 2023 NFL roster cuts process works, including deadlines, waiver wire rules, IR process and how the practice squad works.

Detroit Lions v Carolina Panthers Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions’ 2023 roster cuts are underway and will continue throughout the next couple days. It’s a tough stretch of days for NFL players on the roster bubble, many of whom won’t find a home in Detroit or with any other franchise.

This also happens to be a confusing time for many fans, as there are a lot of intricacies to the process that are not well-explained by the league. So to help you through everything you need to know about roster cuts, here is a comprehensive guide.

Waiver wire rules

Waived vs. Released

When a player is cut, they are either “waived” or “released.” A player who has at least four accrued seasons is released, not waived, meaning their contract is immediately terminated and they are a free agent who can sign anywhere immediately. A player with less than four accrued seasons is “waived,” meaning their contract stays intact until they go through the waiver wire process.

For clarity, take a look at the Lions’ first cuts:

Those first five players have been in the league since at least 2019, while the waived players underneath have less than four years in the NFL.

Waiver claim process

A waived player can be claimed by any other team looking for more talent. For roster cutdowns, any player waived from Thursday to Tuesday’s deadline remains on waivers until Wednesday at Noon ET (more on deadlines below). During that time, teams will submit waiver claims, expressing their interest in specific players. At the end of the claim period (Noon ET on Wednesday, in this case), the team with the highest waiver priority is awarded the player and his current contract. Note: That player is immediately placed on their 53-man roster. You cannot put a waiver claim on the practice squad. Only free agents can be signed to the practice squad. If a player is not claimed in that window, their contract is terminated, they become a free agent, and they are free to sign anywhere, be it to a team’s 53-man roster or a practice squad.

Waiver wire priority

Waiver wire priority is determined by last year’s standings—or the 2023 NFL Draft order prior to any trades. Therefore, the Detroit Lions are 18th in waiver priority, and the Chicago Bears are first (a full 2023 waiver priority list is here). So if the Lions put in a roster claim for a player, they will only be awarded said player if the 17 teams above them did not put in a claim for that player.

Once a team is awarded a waived player, they must decide on a corresponding move to make room for him—assuming there is not already a roster spot open—by 4 p.m. ET that day.

Note: Waiver wire priority changes within the season. Starting at the conclusion of Week 3 of the 2023 regular season, waiver wire priority is determined by current standings rather than 2022 standings.

Important Deadlines

Tuesday, August 29 — 4 p.m. ET — 53-man roster deadline + NFI/PUP decision deadline

This is the deadline for all 32 teams to get down to the necessary 53-player roster limit.

Also, for players currently on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) or Non-Football Injury (NFI) list, this is the deadline for teams to either activate them to the regular season 53-man roster or put them on reserve/PUP or reserve/NFI list.

If they choose to activate the player, they count against the 53-man roster immediately. If they move them to the reserve list, they will miss a minimum of four games, but they won’t count against the 53-man roster. In other words, if they remain on the NFI/PUP, that counts as one of the “cuts” down to 53.

This is obviously relevant for the Lions because Hendon Hooker (NFI) and Emmanuel Moseley (PUP) remain on these lists right now. It seems unlikely the Lions will activate Hooker by Tuesday, but it’s a little less clear with Moseley considering he was finally on the field working with trainers last week. He can still get that work in with trainers if he moves to the reserve/PUP list, but if Detroit thinks he’ll be ready before Week 5, they may choose to activate him, which would mean one fewer roster spot is available for everyone else.

Wednesday, August 30 — Noon ET Waiver claim deadline

For every player who was waived between last Thursday after 4 p.m. ET until the 4 p.m. ET deadline on Tuesday, they will remain on waivers until Noon ET on Wednesday. Every other team has until that time to decide whether they want to put in a claim for that player or not.

Around noon on Wednesday, teams will be notified if they were awarded any players off waivers. Once those notices are sent out, teams can start to sign players to their 16-man practice squad.

Wednesday, August 30 — 4 p.m. ET — IR to return start

Any player placed on injured reserve prior to 53-man roster cutdowns must remain on IR for the entire season (unless the team releases them with an injury settlement). However, if a team wants to place a player on IR and have them return after four weeks minimum, that player needs to be on the 53-man regular season roster. Beginning at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, any player placed on IR is eligible to return after that four-week minimum.

Again, this is relevant to the Lions for many players. As Erik Schlitt suggested in his 53-man roster prediction, this could be the route they take with a player like Ifeatu Melifonwu, who has been battling a recent injury. Rather than risk losing him to waivers, the Lions may put him on the initial 53-man roster, but on Wednesday place him on IR. That would mean he’s out until Week 5, but it would also create an extra roster spot a day later while never subjecting Melifonwu to waivers. Other potential candidates for this maneuver include Nate Sudfeld and Julian Okwara, although both were already on the roster bubble prior to their injuries in the preseason finale.

Practice squad rules

Timing

Teams start filling out their practice squad on Wednesday at Noon ET, after waiver wire claims are processed. Teams are allowed to tell players they are waiving or releasing that they’d like to have them back on the practice squad, but they can’t officially do it until that deadline—and players may choose to sign elsewhere.

Size

Under recently adopted rules, teams can now build a 16-man practice squad.

Eligibility

Every single player who becomes a free agent is eligible to sign to a team’s practice squad. However, there are limits on how many players you can add in relation to their NFL experience. Here’s an easy overview:

  • Players with an unlimited amount of experience: 6 players maximum
  • Players with two or fewer accrued seasons: 10 players maximum
  • Players with no accrued seasons or were active less than 9 games in one season: 16 players maximum

Additionally, the combination of players in the first two categories may not exceed 10. In other words, on a full 16-man practice squad, at least six of your players must have zero accrued seasons or one accrued season with fewer than nine active games.

International Pathways Program exemption

This year, the Lions have offensive lineman Max Pircher on their roster, who comes from the NFL’s relatively new International Pathways Program. Per that program’s rule, Pircher can stay on the team’s practice squad without taking up one of the 16 spots. However, he will not be eligible to be signed to the 53-man roster during the season if the Lions use this exemption. He’ll just sit there and develop all season.

What about suspended players?

Jameson Williams will start the year on the suspended list. He does not have to make the initial 53-man roster. His move to the suspended list can be one of the team’s final roster moves to get down to 53 players, which is why it’s already included in our 2023 roster cuts tracker. The Lions did the same thing with Andrew Quarless in 2016 and Jashon Cornell in 2021.

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