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What is a Waiver in Fantasy Football (and how does it work)?

Imagine it’s your first year playing season-long fantasy football, and you absolutely crushed your draft. It’s time to relax, enjoy the football season, and imagine all the cool things you will buy after you collect your winnings at the end of the season, right?

Not so fast, my friend!

True, you initially build your team through the draft.

But what happens when your players underperform or incur injuries? Or a rookie starts balling out of his mind, and you’d like to add him to your roster mid-season?

One word: WAIVERS

Mastering waivers are as equally important as dominating your draft. 

I’m Tracy, and I’ve been playing fantasy football for nearly twenty years. I’ve won fantasy leagues by effectively using waivers, and I’ve seen championship-caliber teams go down in flames through waiver mismanagement.

In this post, I’ll tell you everything that you would ever want to know about waivers. Then, I’ll contrast waivers with free agents and discuss the waiver process.

If you expect to wave hello to a first-place finish, you’d better learn to use the waiver system to your advantage!

Key Takeaways:

  • Waivers allow fantasy football managers to add non-rostered players to their teams after completing the league draft.
  • When waivers are processed, the fantasy football manager that submits a claim on a player and has the highest waiver priority (closest to 1) gets the player.
  • Imagine you and other competing fantasy managers submit waiver claims on the same player. In that case, waiver priority dictates whether you acquire the player. 

What is a Waiver?

Waivers are a fair and organized method for all fantasy football managers to add non-rostered players to their teams after completing the league draft. [1]

Fantasy managers in a fantasy football league select their players at a draft before the season.

Players who are not selected in the draft are referred to as non-rostered.

After the season starts, due to injury or poor performance by the drafted players, fantasy football managers may choose to replace a drafted player from their roster with a non-rostered player via a waiver. [2]


How do Waivers Work?

Before kickoff on Sunday, you set your lineups.

All rosters freeze every Sunday at 10 am PST and will remain frozen until every Tuesday at 11:59 pm PST when waivers are processed.

During this time, changes to your roster are not permitted, and you cannot add non-rostered players to your team.

During the Sunday games, imagine one of your players suffers an injury, or a non-rostered player performs brilliantly.

Whatever the case, you want to make changes or additions to your roster.

But you cannot change your roster until 11:59 pm PST on Tuesday!

What on Earth do you do?

You submit a waiver claim for the player you want to acquire.

And do so prior to 11:59 pm PST on Tuesday. [3]

Processing Waivers

Every Tuesday at 11:59 pm PST, all waiver claims submitted during the weekly temporary freeze are processed. 

When waivers are processed, the fantasy football manager that submitted a claim on a player and has the highest waiver priority (closest to 1) acquires the player (More on waiver priority later).

After all waiver claims are processed, non-rostered players not acquired during the waiver period become free agents: they can be picked up on a first-come, first-served basis and do not affect your waiver priority.

In a successful waiver claim, you gain one player.

You must drop a different player to clear a spot for your new player.

All players dropped during the waiver process will go back on waivers for 24 hours. [4]

What is Waiver Priority?

Imagine you and other fantasy competitors submitting waiver claims for the same player.

Your waiver priority determines whether you acquire the player. 

Waiver wire priority dictates fantasy managers win waiver wire claims based on their position on a priority list. 

The best waiver priority is the lowest-numbered position (closest to 1), and the worst is the highest-numbered position (farthest from 1). [5]

Imagine both Team A and Team B place a waiver claim on the same player. 

In addition, Team A has a second priority while Team B has a third priority.

Who do you think wins the claim and acquires the player?

If you said Team A, you are learning!

Team A will get the player due to its better, lower-numbered priority. [6


How is Waiver Priority Determined?

After the draft, waiver priority is typically assigned randomly or in reverse-draft order (the player who picked first is given the worst waiver priority, and the player who picked last is given the best priority

Imagine a draft of ten teams, with Team A picking first and Team J picking tenth.

Team A’s waiver priority would be 10 (the worst), while Team J’s waiver priority would be 1 (the best).

Two other frequently used methods to determine waiver priority are listed below: [7]

Worst is First, Best is Last

After each week, the waiver priority is reset in the reverse order of the standings (10-team league).

The team with the worst record will have the best waiver priority (first priority), and the team with the best record will have the worst waiver priority (tenth priority). 

This is done to even out the playing field and give the teams with the worst records a chance to obtain the best pickups each and every week. [8]

Continual Rolling List: 

This method assigns the waiver priority after the draft and does not change weekly (10-team league).

The waiver priority in a continual rolling list only changes when a team makes a successful claim on a player.

After a successful claim, the claiming team will drop to the tenth priority, and all other teams will move up one increment in priority.

Imagine Team A has first priority, Team B has the second priority, and Team J has the tenth priority.

Team A then makes a successful waiver claim on a player.

Team A drops to tenth priority, Team B moves to first priority, and Team J moves to ninth priority. [9]

The video below explains all aspects of the waiver process in brilliant detail:

Closing Remarks:

Mastery of “the waiver” is very similar to mastery of “The Force” in Star Wars.

It is not an easy task, but if you succeed, in words immortalized by Yoda, “reap endless benefits, you will.”


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