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How the NFL waiver wire works

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NFL teams begin 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.

Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers wrapped up their preseason schedule on Thursday, and now begins the two-day process of cutting down to the 53-man roster. Teams used to cut from 90 to 75 players on Tuesday of the final week, and then down to 53 on Saturday. This year, they removed the first cut, so now, teams are cutting from near 90 players to 53 at that final cut.

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 over the next 72 hours. The new rule removing the 75 man cut means upwards of 1,100 players are going to be released between the final preseason game and the Saturday afternoon deadline.

The 49ers are in the midst of a sizable roster overhaul, which means a lot of veterans and rookies are scrambling for jobs. 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 2017 regular season, the priority is based on draft order. This means that the Cleveland Browns are the No. 1 team on the waiver priority list, while the 49ers are No. 2. 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 the Cleveland Browns do not 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 Browns 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. Back in July, they claimed wide receiver Tim Patrick off waivers from the Baltimore Ravens. They released Ahmad Brooks earlier this month, but actually first acquired him via waivers in 2008.

We’ll be keeping an eye on roster cuts over the next day. The 53-man rosters will be reached by then, but then there will be further turnover as teams make waiver claims.