Waiver Wire Primer
When a player is terminated, cut or fired, call it whatever you want, there is a process that happens. Depending on their years of service and the timing of the transaction a few different things can happen.
Unvested Players (players without 4 years of accrued service)
The waiver system allows for a team to claim a player that was released from a previous team. After the first preseason game, Tampa Bay cut kicker Roberto Aguayo. They didn’t want him. They fired him. He went on the waiver wire. From the day after the Super Bowl and until the end of the 3rd week (Monday 9/25), the waiver wire priority is based on the previous year’s records/draft order. Starting Tuesday 9/26 (start of week4), through the Super Bowl, assignments are based on the inverse order of their current win-loss record.
Going back to Aquayo (an unvested player), the Chicago Bears put in a claim. This did two things. It removed the guaranteed base salaries from the Tampa Bay salary cap, and it gave the Bears his rights/current contract. The Bears were 3rd in line, so when they made the claim the only way they would have lost out would have been if the Browns (1st) or 49ers (2nd) had put in a claim. If multiple teams put in a claim, then it goes to the one that is the highest on the list which in this example would follow the 2017 draft order.
Until 9/26, the Broncos are 20th on the list in waiver claim priority.
If Aquayo had gone unclaimed, then he would be a free agent and free to sign a contract with any NFL team.
Until the trading deadline (10-31), a vested veteran — a player who has acquired four accrued seasons is not subject to the waiver system. If such a player is cut, his contract is immediately terminated. Demaryius Thomas would fit this example (note this is not a call to cut Demaryius Thomas, just using his name and his level of experience as an example). He would then be free to sign with any other team.
Once the tradeline passes after week 8 (10-31), any player has to pass through waivers. Rookie, 12-year vet, 15 million a year, league minimum, etc. Every player has to pass through waivers. When the Texans released future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed in week 11 a few years ago he had to pass through waivers. When the Colts released Peyton Manning in March of 2012, he did not have to pass through waivers. He was free to sign with anytime.
Waiver wire periods last 24 hours before the player becomes a free agent.
90 to 53-man cut down
At the end of the preseason, the NFL has a 9/2/17 4pm New York time, for teams to cut down to the 53-man roster. Vested players if cut are free agents. Unvested players go through the waiver wire. If an unvested player passes through waivers then the team can place them on the practice squad, if they meet the eligibility that is discussed in a previous post here.