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How the NFL waiver wire works

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NFL teams began making roster moves on Friday, and it continues into Saturday and Sunday. With so much happening, we need to take a look at how the waiver wire operates.

The San Francisco 49ers will announce their roster cuts on Saturday, but we have already seen cuts happen for numerous teams across the league. NFL rules dictate teams must reduce their rosters to 53 players no later than 1 p.m. PT on Saturday. That means a lot of talent will be available in the coming days. With teams cutting from 75 to 53, that means 704 players, give or take will have been released between the final preseason game and the Saturday afternoon deadline.

The 49ers have enough questions on their roster that they will likely have some interest in players that are released. They could try and trade for someone before they are released, but the primary method of acquiring players this weekend is the waiver process.

When a team releases a player with less than four years of service, they are subject to the waiver process. Normally when a player is released, waivers runs the next day. For roster cuts, all players run through waivers on Sunday, whether they were released on Friday or Saturday.

The process involves a priority list ranking teams for claiming players. From the first day of the league year until the conclusion of Week 3 of the 2016 regular season, the priority is based on draft order. This means that the Tennessee Titans are the No. 1 team on the waiver priority list, while the 49ers are No. 7. This means that if the 49ers want to take a shot on a young player, they have to put a claim in on him, and then cross their fingers and hope that none of the six teams ahead of them on the list put in a claim.

You might be used to the waiver process in your fantasy football league. The NFL waiver process is different in that the No. 1 team can claim as many players from waivers as they want, and they retain priority. The Titans essentially get first dibs on every player. They will stay in that position through Week 3 of the regular season.

Any player with at least four years of service that is released is not subject to the waiver process. They immediately become free agents and can sign with any team.

The 49ers have used the waiver wire in the past, although primarily during the season. In January, they claimed Je’Ron Hamm off waivers from Washington. The previous November they claimed Ray-Ray Armstrong from Oakland. Their most notable waiver claim in recent years was Ahmad Brooks, who they claimed in 2008 after the Cincinnati Bengals waived him.

We’ll continue to keep an eye on roster cuts as 1:00 p.m. PT approaches. The 53-man rosters will be reached by then, but then there will be further turnover as teams make waiver claims.