The NFL’s roster-building process goes beyond final cuts. While teams are heading into Week 1 with the bulk of their season-long talent, a quirk in the NFL rule book could spark some notable transactions in Week 2.
Explaining the NFL’s Week 1 vested veteran rule
In the NFL, a player becomes a “vested” veteran after accruing four seasons of experience. That status comes with notable benefits. For one, it allows a player to avoid the waiver wire prior to the trade deadline. When a vested veteran is cut from January to mid-October, they become free agents immediately after 4 p.m. ET on the day they are released.
And while that benefit is important for career control, the vested veteran tag can also be a bit of an inconvenience. Vested veterans receive the benefit of fully guaranteed salaries if they are on the Week 1 roster on game day. While that’s a terrific incentive for long-term service, players on the bubble can be put at a disadvantage because of the guaranteed timeline.
For example, if a player is set to make $4 million in base salary but is being outperformed by a second-year player, even by a smidge, a team is likely to cut the experienced player to avoid guaranteeing his $4 million salary. That’s partially why some teams try to beat the system by releasing vested veterans during final cuts only to bring them back in Week 2 without guaranteeing their salaries.
Essentially, teams can use clever accounting by sticking it out a younger player for a week before bringing back a veteran who can be a reliable piece of the puzzle. Once Week 2 hits, the teams can sign vested veterans without guaranteeing their salaries. That protects the team in case the player suffers an early injury or bombs on the field.
Why the rule leads to transactional traffic in Week 2
Players who are dealing with notable injuries — like wideout Odell Beckham Jr. — or diminishing skill sets — like safety Anthony Harris — are still looking for jobs on the open market. Part of the reason why those players aren’t on rosters is because teams aren’t looking to commit to them while they’re rehabbing or struggling in performance.
But, with Week 2 on the horizon, signing those players becomes more palatable. If Beckham fails to recover or has a setback with his knee injury, his new team won’t need to bury a massive chunk of salary cap space. If Harris arrives with a new franchise and proves not to be a fit for the defense, the new team can cut him without a notable financial commitment.
So, teams can have their cake and eat it too if they simply wait out Week 1, take their lumps with a less experienced player on Sunday (or Monday), and add an experienced cog to the lineup next Tuesday.
Notable free agent veterans on the market
WR Odell Beckham Jr.
The highlight-reel wideout celebrated his Super Bowl win with the Rams in Los Angeles on Thursday. While the Rams have always been the favorite to sign Beckham, he’s not expected to play on his reconstructed knee until the second half of the season. Beckham could remain on the free agent market until he is able to pass a physical.
S Anthony Harris
The veteran safety had a forgettable second training camp in Philadelphia and was released during final cuts. Instead of sticking around on Philadelphia’s practice squad, Harris and the Eagles agreed to go their separate ways. Harris is now looking for a permanent home, and that destination is likely to be revealed next week.
S Jaquiski Tartt
Like Harris, Jaquiski Tartt had a poor summer in Philly. He was let go during final cuts after spending the preseason finale with the third-string defense. Still, Tartt has the ability to play in the box and on special teams, so he could receive looks over the next few weeks.
OT Eric Fisher
The former first overall pick had a rough one-year stint with the Indianapolis Colts last season. Eric Fisher has yet to pop up on the rumor mill to this point, but he could see some interest if teams have injuries or struggles along the OL in Week 1.
DT Ndamukong Suh
Like Fisher, Ndamukong Suh is probably waiting on a major injury or blunder from a defensive tackle in Week 1. While he’s not the dominant trench player he once was, Suh can manipulate offensive linemen with his strength. He’s likely a pay-to-play option for a contender.
CB Kevin King
One of the younger players on this list, Kevin King might be a last resort for a team needing corner depth. That said, he has a history of playing safety, and his versatility could help him latch onto a team lacking secondary backups.
CB Joe Haden
The former Pro Bowler had a cold market in free agency, but Joe Haden could attract interest as injuries pile up in secondaries. His experience playing in man and zone coverages could help him find a new squad.
DT Sheldon Richardson
A strong rotational 3-technique, Sheldon Richardson is on the wrong side of 30. That said, Richardson showed he still has some juice left in recent years. His status is likely to come down to injuries like a lot of the players on this list.
FB Andy Janovich
Teams looking for a fullback due to an upgrade or injury will be in luck with Andy Janovich. The veteran FB could be waiting on Week 2 to join a team that didn’t dig their options in training camp.
WR Cole Beasley
The controversial and outspoken wideout is a few years removed from being one of the most efficient receivers in the game. If a slot receiver suffers an injury on a contending team, Cole Beasley could get a quick call.
TE Eric Ebron
Like several others on this list, Eric Ebron’s market didn’t really develop in free agency. Sure, he’s a former first-round pick and Pro Bowl selection, but Ebron’s also bounced around quite a bit. Maybe he joins a contender on the way to a playoff run.
EDGE Jason Pierre-Paul
Another aging former Buccaneers defender, JPP is likely more of a rotational presence at this point in his career. The former Pro Bowler could help a team that needs experience and consistency up front.
CB A.J. Bouye
It’s weird that A.J. Bouye has bounced around so much in recent years. While he’s not a Pro Bowl-level player anymore, he still can serve as worthwhile depth on the outside. He’s another “break in case of emergency” option.
LB A.J. Klein
Teams searching for an experienced special-teams ace with outside linebacker ability could try to add A.J. Klein down the road. He’s a role player who could be used in various ways on a depth chart. He has plenty of experience in a 4-3 attack.
P Brett Kern
There’s been a ton of turnover at punter over the past few weeks. If a punter struggles in Week 1, look for teams to circle Brett Kern — a longtime Tennessee Titans specialist — to upgrade the position.