A player is cut when the team decides to no longer use him. However, the distinction between being waived and being released adds an extra layer of nuance.
When a player is released or waived by an NFL team, he no longer has a team to play for. Any NFL player with fewer than four seasons under his belt is considered “unvested,” while any veteran with four or more seasons is “vested” and cannot be waived. The year in which a player spends at least six weeks on a team’s 53-man roster is considered his “accrued season.” Let’s break down the differences between a waiver and a release.
Release vs. Waiver in the NFL
If a player is waived, it does not mean that his or her contract has been officially terminated; rather, it means that the player is on a waiver wire from which other teams can claim him or her.
Upon being claimed by another club, the player becomes subject to the terms of that club’s contract. Conversely, if no team claims him by a predetermined time, usually noon the following day, his contract is voided and he becomes a free agent.
By waiving an injured player, the league is essentially informed of the player’s injury. The player then goes through the same waiver wire process as described above, with two possible outcomes: either a team claims him or nobody does. If he is not claimed, he will go back to the injured reserve list of his original team. After evaluating his condition, his team will then decide whether to keep him or waive him with an injury settlement.