The Chicago Bears Training Camp began about five weeks ago, and all of a sudden, we are already at the roster cutdown to 53. All 32 NFL clubs must be at 53 players by 3:00 PM Central time tomorrow. As I have done several times in the past, I wanted to review procedures and League rules as they pertain to the roster cuts and player acquisitions.
It's strictly semantics, but players can be waived or "released," and that depends on if they are a vested veteran. A vested veteran is any player who has four or more years of service in the League. These players do not go through waivers but rather are released from their contracts and become free agents as soon as the release is official. An example would be if a 5-year veteran got released this morning from a club, it becomes official at 3:00 PM Central. At that point, he becomes a free agent and is free to negotiate with any team in the League.
A non-vested veteran must be waived. When that happens, his name goes on the waiver wire, and the other 31 clubs have an opportunity to claim his contract in the following 24-hour period. If a club wants to claim a waived player, there is a priority system set up by the League. Up until the third game, the waiver priority is basically the Draft Order (with trades taken out) from last April. That priority will not change until after the third game of the season, in which case the priority is based on each team's current record. By virtue of having the worst record in the League last year, the Bears have the top priority right now. They get first "dibs" on any player waived until after the third game of the season.
Injured Reserve (IR) can be a complicated process. First, if a player is waived "injured" and that player does not get claimed, he reverts to his club's IR list. Most players who are waived injured do not stay on IR very long. The club and the players' agent usually negotiate an injury settlement based on the severity of the injury and how long the player will be out. Once that settlement is agreed upon, the player is waived off of IR.
If a player is placed on IR before the cut to 53, that player is done for the season and cannot be brought back. If a club wants the player on the active roster at some point during the season, they have to keep him on the original 53-man roster tomorrow. On Wednesday or any day following, the team can then place the player on IR, where he must stay for a minimum of four games.
For the Bears, examples could be Teven Jenkins and Doug Kramer. Both currently have injuries, and we don't know how long before they are able to return to action. If the medical staff feels that they will miss at least the first four games, then the Bears would keep them on the 53-roster tomorrow, and then any time after Wednesday, they could place them on IR. Once they go on IR, the Bears can sign another player to replace them.
Signing Vested Veterans
Instead of putting in a claim for a waived player, a team can sign a vested veteran who was either released this week or is currently not under contract with any club. There are some important implications to doing that.
If a vested vet is on a club's 53-man roster for the opening game, his salary for the year becomes guaranteed even if he is later cut. That means there could be some serious salary cap ramifications to signing such a player. The way around that is to wait until after the first game to sign the veteran. After the opening game, any vested vet signed is now week to week, meaning that player could be released after a month, and the team is not on the hook for a full year's salary.
Players can be signed to the practice squad (PS) any time after noon (CT) on Wednesday. That player obviously would have had to clear waivers. The League notifies clubs if any of their players have been claimed so they know right away if they can sign the player to their practice squad.
It used to be that only players with three years or less of service could be placed on a practice squad. That changed, and now each club can have a limited number of veteran players on the PS. The minimum PS salary is $11,500 per week. Teams can, if they so desire, pay a player more than the minimum. Practice squads can be costly, so the club must have enough cap space to pay them. If a club pays each of the 16 PS players the minimum, it costs the team $184,000.00 per week and about $3.12M for the year.