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How Does The NFL Waiver Wire System Work?

Now that NFL teams have cut down to their 53-man rosters, there are upwards of 800 players looking for work. The 49ers have a 53-man roster, but they still have a few question marks they might want to address from the pool of players hitting the market. And once players clear waivers there is then the matter of the eight person practice squad. The 49ers do not necessarily have to fill up the practice squad today, but I would imagine they'll fill most of the spots.

Not all players are created equal when it comes to getting cut during the preseason, or really any time before the trade deadline (as per the rules posted after the jump). If a player has acquired four years of service, placing the player on waivers automatically terminates his contract and makes him an unrestricted free agent. An example of that would be Patriots linebacker Brandon Meriweather who has four years of service. I believe Tony Wragge qualifies as that as well but I'm not 100% certain.

The 49ers roster cuts yesterday featured players that primarily had less than four years of service. Accordingly, those players were entered into the waiver system as soon as they were released. I don't know the specific time when the waiver system is "run" but the basic idea is that teams can place a claim on a player and acquire him without going through free agency.

As I understand it, through the first three weeks of the regular season the waiver order is determined based on the previous season's standings. That would place Carolina in the first position, Denver second, Cincinnati third, and so forth. The 49ers would be somewhere between No. 7 and No. 13 depending on how tiebreakers work. One other question mark for me is if a team claims a player off waivers, do they move to the back of the waiver priority list? That's how it works in my fantasy league, but I don't know how it works in real life.

If the 49ers do make a waiver claim or sign free agents, they will immediately have to release a player to remain at the 53 player limit. This is where bubble players still have to remain on alert. Just because a player made the team on Saturday does not mean he'll remain with the team even through the weekend.

The question is who is actually at the bottom of the roster in terms of still being on the bubble? In reality we're just guessing since some of the roster decisions yesterday left us scratching our heads. It's not surprising we're wrong on some of these, but still interesting. You could argue Keaton Kristick, Colin Jones and Will Tukuafu are on the bubble, but I'm probably biased since I didn't have them on my 53-man projection. I guess we'll find out more today.

Head after the jump to check out some more details about the waiver process from the current CBA.



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 H 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 NFL 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.