Waived vs. Released: How the NFL Waiver Wire Works

There is much confusion surrounding the language of waived vs. released in the NFL. This should serve as a waiver wire cheat sheet.

As NFL teams prepare to make their final cuts to get down to the 53-man rosters, many players in the coming days will be waived or released. There can be confusion surrounding the language of waived players vs. released ones, but there is a difference between the two.

It’s also important to note how the waiver wire works, what a vested veteran is, and how NFL teams use the rules in place to their advantage. As the old adage goes, “The NFL is a business.”

Waived vs. Released in the NFL

NFL rules and the language surrounding them can be a nightmare to try and follow. For NFL teams, the designation doesn’t carry any weight, but for the players involved, there’s a substantial difference.

The NFL waiver wire, waived/released, vested veterans, and a host of other terms can boggle the minds of fans. Luckily, the important bits of information aren’t too hard to find.

What Does Waived Mean?

Players with less than four years of service time are waived and must go through the waiver wire process. The waiver wire order is the same as the NFL Draft order (records from the 2022 season).

The waiver system allows the other 31 NFL teams to grab young players. It’s the time period the player is placed on waivers until they go unclaimed. Per NFL operations:

“The waiver period runs from the first business day after the Super Bowl through the end of the NFL’s regular season. Except in rare incidents, the waiver period lasts 24 hours and all waivers are categorized as ‘no recall’ and ‘no withdrawal,’ which means once a club waives a player, it cannot take the player back or change the player’s status.”

MORE: Team-By-Team Tracker for Every NFL Roster Cut

The waiver system is based on priority. Teams have an ordered opportunity to claim a player or “waive” their chance.

What Does Released Mean?

Players with at least four years of accrued NFL service time receive released status. These players are considered vested veterans, so when they’re released, their contract is terminated.

The player is free to sign with any NFL team, and the team that released them doesn’t need to provide any additional compensation.

How NFL Teams Take Advantage of These Rules

Many veterans who will contribute to their NFL franchises are released before the 53-man roster cut deadline. They keep their young players around this way instead of exposing them to waivers.

Injured players must be on the 53-man roster to start the season. If the injury is bad enough for an IR (injured reserve) designation, the rules give teams options. Players out for the year receive an IR designation and do not count against the roster number.

If the injury is serious but with a quicker return, they must first make the 53-man roster. As a result, teams elect to cut veteran players. Those veterans then stick around for a day or two until the injured players go on IR. The injured players then do not count against the 53-man roster.

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