Today is the official cutdown to the “final 53” in the NFL and sometimes today’s action brings about a lot of confusion when we see the names of players who are being released. Everson Griffin of the Vikings. Marqui Christian and Artie Burns on the Bears. The Lions carrying zero kickers. And so on and so on. While this will not hold true with all of these players in many cases these are simply procedural moves done to protect roster spots as team get to the real 53 man rosters over the next few days.
When a player who does not have enough service to be considered a veteran the player is subject to waivers. Waivers give all of the other 31 teams in the NFL the ability to claim the player’s contract if you release him. When a veteran has enough years of service they are not subject to waivers and simply become a free agent.
There are two issues that often happen during this timeframe in the NFL. A big one is that teams have plenty of injured players who are not going to be able to play for a few weeks but will be able to play at a later time. The league has a rule that allows players on IR to be reactivated later in the season but with a catch. The player has to be on the 53 man roster at the start of the season, meaning they have to be on the roster after 4PM today before they can be placed on IR tomorrow afternoon and no longer count on the 53 man.
The second issue is protecting players a team want’s for a practice squad. In order to move a player to a practice squad they will need to be released. In most cases this applies to young players who dominate the practice squads. Waiver claims are usually most active in the first day or two following final cuts. Sometimes it is beneficial to hold a player until planning for the regular season opener begins as teams are then focused on their opponents and 53 man roster and are more likely to allow a player to pass through waivers. In this case that probably means holding a player through next Monday.
If a team were to release a younger player who they really like they run the risk of losing him in the waiver process. They do not have that same risk with a veteran since their contract is not open for a claim. So what occurs is that a team will go to the player, tell them they are releasing him from his contract simply to hold a roster spot for a few days for another player. Once they process the move they will re-sign him to the exact same contract. So for example Griffen was on a one year, $1.075 million contract. He will simply be re-signed to another $1.075 million contract. Nothing changes for the veteran it is simply a procedural move. Basically it gives the team the ability to have a 54, 55, 56, etc… man roster to comply with NFL rules.
This is not to be confused with avoiding a full salary guarantee through termination pay. That only happens if the veteran is not re-signed until the second week of the season. That may happen in some cases too but the usual procedure for that is to have the veteran on the team through next Tuesday and then cutting him on Friday or Saturday. This allows the veteran to earn his full salary for the week but not be active for week 1 and thus the team avoids the salary guarantee for the full year (they will still guarantee 35% of the contract when he is re-signed).
But if you see a move that seems like a head scratcher involving a low salaried veteran know that it is probably just a procedural cut and he will be back on the team within the next 72 hours.