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Not many people get to say they have achieved their childhood dreams of playing professional football. Every player on an NFL roster is in the top 1% of their profession.
Unfortunately, not all of them get the chance to make it past the preseason. At the end of training camp, several players who began the season with the team will be looking for a new home after the team makes its final cuts.
NFL teams make their final cuts of the preseason after the final preseason game. When the final cuts are made, each roster goes from 80 players down to 53. That 53-man roster consists of the players who will be active for each regular season game.
When a player is cut, it does not mean that his NFL dreams are over. He may be demoted to the practice squad or get picked up by another NFL team. Every player who is cut in the preseason has a different fate, but not all of them leave the league for good.
What Happens to a Player When he is Cut from an NFL Team?
The NFL is the same as any other job. When a player does not perform up to the team’s standards, just like when an employee does not perform up to the company’s standards, he is relieved of his duties.
When a player is released from an NFL team, his rights and contract with that team are terminated and, therefore, may be claimed by another team in the league.
Players who have less than four years in the league may be waived which means their contracts are still valid unless they make it through the waiver wire (which will be discussed later in the article).
Players who have more than four years of experience in the league may be released immediately meaning that whoever picks them up does not have to pick up their previous contract.
This does not mean that the previous team who released the player is completely off the hook for his contract. While the player may not see that money, the team is still on the hook for it in their salary cap space (more about this later as well).
Being waived and being released in the NFL both mean that a player is being relieved of his duties with his current team and is now available for other teams in the league. However, they do mean two different things.
Players still on their rookie contracts can be waived and their contracts claimed by other teams while players with more than 4 years of service can be released immediately and are free to sign with whoever they want.
What is the NFL Waiver Wire?
If you have ever played fantasy football, you probably understand the concept of the waiver wire fairly well. However, for the average NFL fan, the intricacies of the waiver wire may be difficult to understand.
The waiver wire is the system the NFL uses to cut and sign players. When a player is waived, his name goes into the waiver wire where his rights and contract may be claimed by another NFL team.
During the NFL season, final cuts for each week must be made by Tuesday afternoon. When a player is waived, other teams across the league have the ability to claim that player by Wednesday at 4pm. When the team claims that player, they also claim his contract.
If a player is not claimed on the waiver wire before the deadline, the player becomes a free agent and may sign with whichever team he wants to sign. In this case, the player’s previous contract with the franchise that waived him is void.
When claiming players, there is an order to how teams can submit claims. For the first three weeks of the season, the waiver wire is based on the previous year’s draft order.
For example, the team that had the first overall pick is first on the waiver order. This means that they have first dibs on any player who makes his way to the waiver wire. The team with the last pick can only claim players who go unclaimed by the other 31 teams.
After week three, the waiver order is based on current league standings and changes from week to week. The team with the worst record in the league is first in line to claim players on the waiver wire while the team with the best record is last.
This procedure is the league’s way of evening the playing field and creating a competitive balance.
What is Dead Cap Space in the NFL?
The NFL has a salary cap which limits the amount of money teams are allowed to spend on player contracts. The amount of money they have left to spend within that salary cap is typically called cap space.
Dead cap space is essentially the amount of money a team must dedicate to a player whether he is on the team or not. This is based on how much money the team has guaranteed the player according to his contract.
For example, let’s say Player X signs a contract with a team for five years and $50 million with $25 million of that guaranteed. That comes out to $10 million per year – $5 million of which is guaranteed.
After three years, the team decides to release Player X. He still has $20 million left on his contract, but the team still must pay out the remaining $10 million left on his contract because they guaranteed it. That means Player X’s release comes with $10 million in dead cap space.
By releasing him, the team opens up $10 million in salary cap space, but they also have $10 million being paid to a player who no longer plays for them.
This is why many players and their agents vouch for as much guaranteed money in their contracts as possible. The more dead cap space that comes with a player’s release, the less likely teams are to release him.
The more dead cap space a team has on its books, the harder it is for them to spend money on quality players in the free agent signing period.
Can Injured Players Be Released in the NFL?
The NFL may be entertainment for fans, but for the players, coaches, and front office staff, it is a business above all else. Injuries are a part of the game and make balancing a roster rather difficult meaning that players who are injured are not free from being relieved of their duties.
Injured players can be released in the NFL just like any other player. However, the rules vary depending on whether or not the player is on the injured reserve list.
When a player gets injured, teams have the option to put him on the Injured/Reserve (IR) list. This means that he is still under contract with the team and receives full medical care, and it allows the team to sign a player to replace him.
The IR is a way for teams to hold on to players that are injured while creating room on the roster to fill his void. If the team does not want to place the player on IR, they can list the player as waive/injured, and he may go to the waiver wire to be claimed by another team.
Teams may also offer players an injury settlement which essentially allows the team to pay the player to be released. If the player accepts the settlement, then he becomes an unrestricted free agent. If he is not signed within 24 hours, he is placed back on his original team’s roster.
Is There a Deadline to Cut Players in the NFL?
NFL teams are allowed to cut players at any time throughout the preseason and regular season. The deadline for final cuts in the preseason is the day when every roster must be down to 53 players. Teams are free to cut whoever they want and whenever they want before the deadline.
When is the Trade Deadline in the NFL?
The NFL trade deadline is typically set around week nine of the regular season – the halfway point of the season. The date varies each season, but the Tuesday heading into week nine is usually the cutoff for any trades.
Do NFL Players Get New Contracts When They are Traded?
When a team trades a player in the NFL, they trade the player’s contract to the other team. The player’s new team is free to renegotiate the terms of that contract, but they are not required to give the player a new contract.
Do All NFL Contracts Have Guaranteed Money?
Not all NFL contracts have guaranteed money. In fact, guaranteed money is a fairly new concept in the NFL. In the past, players rarely got guaranteed money. Now, it is not uncommon for players – especially star players – to get more than half of their contract guaranteed.