Explaining the Veteran Waivers Process

While the trade deadline turned out to be almost all bark with no bite, now that it has passed a new chapter opens in the League calendar for veteran players.

I often get questions about what is the difference between a “Waived” and “Released” transaction and it’s a relatively simple distinction. A player who is “waived” during the season has a 24 hour window in which their contract can be claimed by another NFL team. The player has no say in where he goes- once claimed he is the property if the claiming team.  All players with less than four accrued seasons are subject to waivers at all times. An accrued season means that a player is on the team for at least 6 weeks in a given season. That 6 week period includes weeks on Injured Reserve.  If a player goes unclaimed he becomes a free agent.

In contrast, veteran players are “released” during most of the season. That means once their contract is terminated they are free to sign with any team they choose. There is no 24 hour waiting period. The player is immediately a free agent and can pick and choose among the clubs that want him. The veteran has earned that right from his years of service to be totall free.

However, that veteran distinction ends at the trade deadline. To keep competitive balance as best as possible in the NFL all players are now subject to waivers. So now  if a veteran player is released he is not free to just find a new home. He must have 31 teams say that they do not want to claim his current contract in order for him to become a free agent. If a veteran player with multiple years on his contract is claimed he must only honor the remainder of the current season and the following season. He will have the option to declare himself a free agent after the second year even if the contract extends well beyond that season. So a veteran player claimed in 2013 will have the option to declare himself a free agent in 2015.

The use of waivers and veteran players brings up an interesting possibility to attempt to essentially trade players for salary cap space. While teams may not be willing to give up a draft pick for an expensive player they may be willing to take him on for a few weeks at the end of the year with no compensation attached. There is a risk involved in using this strategy for the team who waives the veteran as his salary is guaranteed for the year which may have to be paid if he goes unclaimed, but if done late enough in the season the player may not want to waste his Termination Pay privilege for a few weeks of pay.

Last year the Philadelphia Eagles took a calculated risk and waived DE Jason Babin with 5 games remaining in the season. The Eagles had long fallen out of any playoff chase and were preparing for the 2013 season, a season Babin was going to play no role in. Babin still had $1.47 million in cap and cash commitments in 2012 and the Eagles banked on a team claiming him to take on that obligation thus creating $1.47 million in cap room that could be carried over to 2013. Babin was claimed, surprisingly by the Jaguars who were a bad team, and the Eagles essentially moved Babin for cap relief. Babin, who I do not believe has had his contract renegotiated in any manner, should be able to declare himself a free agent after this season even though his contract runs through 2015.

I think it is a very interesting strategy for teams to use if they have a decent player that another team could be interested in. While I would not expect a player like Jared Allen to fall into the same scenario since he is in the final year of his contract and his cost is probably too high for anyone to claim (it would be $4.2 million in week 13), for mid tier players with middle grade P5’s who do not factor into 2014 plans it can be a risk worth taking.


 

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