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Cutdown Day Approacheth: How the NFL Waiver Wire Works

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On Saturday, the Vikings will take on the Seattle Seahawks in the most important pre-season game of the summer.  Yes, the "most important pre-season game" is a bit of an oxymoron, but it is the game where the starters are expected to see the most work, and where most of the important roster decisions are made.  The Vikings' roster will need to be trimmed to 75 players by Tuesday, 31 August, and down to the final 53 players by a week from Saturday.

So, when the Vikings. . .or any other team in the NFL. . .cut players in training camp, they generally have to go through the waiver process.  Many of the players that the Vikings are going to want to add to their practice squad are going to have to clear waivers, whether those players are with the Vikings right now or they're currently with other teams.

Any player with four seasons or less of accrued service has to go through the waiver wire process.  Here's an explanation of how the process works.

When a player gets cut by an NFL team, he becomes eligible to be signed by the team that had the worst record in the NFL the season before.  Last year, that team was the St. Louis Rams, so they'd get first crack at signing that player.  If they chose not to make a claim, then the second-worst team (the Detroit Lions) would get an opportunity.  It would then go all the way down the list.  If no team chose to put a waiver claim in on that player, the player would be deemed to have "passed through waivers" and would be eligible to sign with any team.

If you'll recall, this is exactly what happened when the Vikings attempted to "sneak" quarterback Tyler Thigpen onto the practice squad a few years back.  Because he didn't meet the time in service requirements, Thigpen was subject to the waiver process.  The Kansas City Chiefs put in a claim on him, and he became property of the Chiefs.  The Thigpen thing is part of the reason why I wouldn't expect Minnesota to try anything similar with Joe Webb this year.

Some other things about the waiver wire:

-If a player is claimed off of waivers and then released, they have to go through the entire waiver process again.

-Only players with four or fewer accrued seasons are subject to the waiver process.  An "accrued season" is defined as six or more regular season games where a player is on the 53-man protected roster, injured reserve (IR), or the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

-Players that have four or more accrued seasons that are released at this point immediately become free agents and are not subject to the waiver process.  This is why you hear about coaches releasing veterans earlier to "give them an opportunity" to sign somewhere else.

-Once the season starts in September On September 28th, the waiver priority order is changed to reflect the current NFL standings.

For those of you out there that are big fans of legalese, this is the actual verbiage of the NFL waiver rules.

WAIVER SYSTEM

Section 1. Release:
   (a)      Whenever a player who has finished the season in which his fourth year of credited service has been earned under the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle Plan is placed on waivers between February 1 and the trading deadline, his contract will be considered terminated and the player will be completely free at any time thereafter to negotiate and sign a Player Contract with any Club, and any Club shall be completely free to negotiate and sign a Player Contract with such player, without penalty or restriction, including, but not limited to, Draft Choice Compensation between Clubs or First Refusal Rights of any kind, or any signing period. If the waivers occur after that time, the player’s Player Contract will be subject to the waiver system and may be awarded to a claiming Club. However, if such player is claimed and awarded, he shall have the option to declare himself an Unrestricted Free Agent at the end of the League Year in question if he has a no-trade clause in his Player Contract. If such player does not have a no-trade clause and the Player Contract being awarded through waivers covers more than one additional season, the player shall have the right to declare himself an Unrestricted Free Agent as set forth above at the end of the League Year following the League Year in which he is waived and awarded.
   (b)      Whenever a player who has finished less than the season in which his fourth year of credited service has been earned under the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle Plan is placed on waivers, the player’s Player Contract will be subject to the waiver system and may be awarded to a claiming Club. 

Section 2. Contact:  Coaches or any other persons connected with another NFL Club are prohibited from contacting any player placed on waivers until such time as the player is released by the waiving Club. 

Section 3. Ineligibility:  Any NFL player who is declared ineligible to compete in a preseason, regular season or postseason game because of a breach by any NFL Club by whom he is employed of waiver procedures and regulations, or any other provision of the NFL Constitution and Bylaws, will be paid the salary or other compensation which he would have received if he had not been declared ineligible, which, in any event, will be a minimum of one week’s salary and, when applicable, expense payments. 

Section 4. Notice of Termination:  The Notice of Termination form attached hereto as Appendix G will be used by all Clubs. If possible, the Notice of Termination will be personally delivered to the player prior to his departure from the team. If the Notice of Termination has not been personally delivered to the player prior to his departure from the team, the Notice of Termination will be sent to him by certified mail at his last address on
file with the Club. 

Section 5. NFLPA’s Right to Personnel Information:  The NFL shall inform the NFLPA of player personnel transactions communicated in the Personnel Notice between the NFL and its member Clubs concerning the termination or trading of players including awards on waivers, termination through waivers, confirmation of trades or any change in the status of players (e.g., placed on Reserve Injured, etc.). The NFL will make best efforts to communicate the information referred to in this Article to the NFLPA on the same day, but in no event later than noon on the next day. A player who is terminated shall, upon request at or around the time of termination, be informed by the terminating Club of any claims made upon him by NFL Clubs during that League Year. The same information will be provided to the NFLPA if requested. 

Section 6. Rosters:  The NFLMC shall supply the NFLPA with an opening day and final roster for each Club. Rosters shall consist of the following categories of players: Active; Inactive; Reserve Injured; Reserve Physically Unable to Perform; Exempt Commissioner Permission; Non Football Illness/Injury; Practice Squad. 

Section 7. Procedural Recall Waivers:  A player with four or more Credited Seasons who is subject to procedural recall waivers from the Reserved/Retired or Reserve/Military status, and who opts for Free Agency in lieu of assignment, cannot, during the same season, re-sign or return to the Club that originally requested such waivers.

And that's how the waiver process works.

With that, enjoy the rest of your Friday, ladies and gentlemen!