On the Monday following the Super Bowl, the NFL waiver period officially begins for 2014. From that point until the trade deadline of the 2014 season, any player with fewer than four accrued NFL seasons who is released by any team must pass through the waiver system before becoming a free agent. If that sounded like a bunch of meaningless jargon, keep reading.
What is the waiver wire?
If you play fantasy football, you may already have a basic understanding of the waiver concept. Essentially, it's a system that ensures the worst teams in the league get first pick among players who are released by another team. (Remember that guy in your league who claimed Nick Foles after that other, stupider guy in your league dropped him midway through the season? It's kind of like that.) After a player is waived by a team, the rest of the league has a 24-hour window to claim the rights to that player. If multiple teams claim the same player, the club with the highest waiver priority gets him. If a player goes unclaimed, he becomes a free agent eligible to sign with any team he wants.
How is waiver priority determined?
Just like the NFL Draft, the order for the waiver wire is determined by reversing the NFL standings from the previous season. The worst team in the league gets the top spot, the best team gets the last one. Since the Houston Texans finished with the worst record during the 2013 season, they'll have the top waiver number. The Super Bowl-winning Seattle Seahawks now own the last spot.
Who has to go through waivers?
Remember when I mentioned "four accrued seasons" above? That's important. Any player with at least four accrued seasons is considered a "vested veteran" and is not subjected to the waiver process. Vested veterans become a free agent immediately upon their release and can sign with any team of their choosing. The NFL defines an accrued season as one in which a player appeared on the active 53-man roster for at least six games. Players with fewer than four accrued seasons must pass through the 24-hour waiver period, after which they too become a free agent.
How long does the waiver period last?
Technically, the waiver period is year-round, spanning from the day after one Super Bowl to the day after the next. However, there is an important date midway through the NFL season that changes the rules. Between the beginning of the new period and the day of the NFL trade deadline in Week 8 of the following season, all of the rules explained above apply. After the trade deadline, however, any player released by a team, regardless of years accrued, must pass through the waiver wire. This is why Ed Reed, a 12-year vet, had to pass through waivers after he was released by the Texans during Week 11 last season.