Managing your current fantasy football roster is an arduous task. You already have enough to think about between injuries, bye weeks, opponents, and player performance. But what if a player on your roster has been underperforming and you suddenly see a juggernaut or diamond in the rough in the free-agent pool on waivers? That’s when you need to answer one of the most often-asked questions: “What is a waiver in fantasy football?”
While your draft is a quintessential part of success in fantasy football leagues, the waiver might just be the next most important aspect. Much like in the actual NFL, a waiver is a type of player transaction where a team essentially releases them or cuts them from their roster. The player then enters the so-called waiver wire, which allows other teams to place a claim on the waived player and add them to their roster.
In fantasy football, the pool of undrafted free agents or players cut from teams in your league is automatically waived. After the player or players enter the waiver wire, anyone in your fantasy football league can make a waiver claim on them. These claims are hidden from one another and will automatically process also known as 'clear' a few days after the last game of the week is played (typically on Wednesdays randomly between 2-5am EST).
This process continues throughout the regular season into the playoffs, giving you a chance each week to find a player about to have a breakout season, replace a player on IR, pick up a superstar's backup in case of injury, or search for additional talent or depth that can give you those extra fantasy points you so desperately need.
Any number of managers in your fantasy football league can place a claim on a waived player, but it’s not like free agency on a first-come, first-serve basis. Depending on what league you play in—whether it’s Yahoo, ESPN, or something else—who gets the player when waivers are cleared depends entirely on waiver priority or FAAB. So understanding what is a waiver in fantasy football is only half the battle. You still need to know this crucial bit of information to select the right player.
The commissioner of your fantasy football league determines waiver priority, which is usually one of four methods:
Keep in mind that waiver orders vary depending on your league rules. Nearly every league has customizable options to boot, so if someone’s dropping players left and right, ask ahead of time so you know when to place your claim on the waiver wire.
When you can place a bid on a waiver wire player differs in each fantasy football league, so be sure to know how long you have to make your claim. That said, most league settings put 'free agents' (unclaimed players or those not on a team) on waivers starting as soon as the game they are playing that week starts. This means free agents that play Thursday go on the waiver wire at kick off, players that play on Sunday at the time of their Sunday kickoff, and players on Monday at the time of their kickoff. Any players that have a bye week typically enter the waiver wire on Monday night when the last game of the week starts—although again—the time varies by league.
Even in smaller fantasy football leagues, it’s almost impossible for every manager in your league to get their waiver wire target. In any given week, you can make a claim on a player and hope that you land the tight end, wide receiver, or running back that you need.
Alternatively, you can wait for a player to “clear waivers.”. From the example in the image above, this means any unclaimed players as of the waiver clearing time on Wednesday are 'free' to grab (costing you no FAAB or waiver priority) up until they play their next game.
Juggling players is when you have empty space on your bench and use it to cycle through players throughout the week in hopes of landing a breakout player before they become a hot waiver target. For example, you pickup a backup running back before their Thursday game, if the starter is injured and the back up becomes the starter, then hold them - you probably just got one of the hottest waiver wire targets for free! If they continue to be a backup, then drop them.
On Sunday you can do the same thing and pickup a potential breakout player before their 1pm game; if they breakout before the 4pm slot then keep them and if they dud then drop them. You can do this again on Sunday at 4pm, 8pm, and Monday night, continually cycling through 'free' players you think could breakout.
After a player clears waivers, it’s open season on selecting these 'free agent' players before they go back on the waiver wire following week. And picking up free agents is all on a first-come, first-serve basis. However, others might be gunning for that same player, so knowing the exact time that a player clears waivers is paramount.
And surprise, surprise—the league you play will set the time or range that players clear waivers either by default or your commish can set a time of their choosing. Here are some of the default waiver-clearing times in the most popular fantasy football leagues:
Double-check with your commish about waiver wire clearance times or look over transactions from previous weeks to ensure you always have the right time.
The importance of asking what is a waiver in fantasy football centers around various strategies, but selecting the right one is vital to a successful championship season. Thankfully, these strategies cater to all types of players, whether you want to be aggressive, laissez-faire, or somewhere in between.
The Chiefs and Eagles had the best O-Lines in the NFL in 2022, but that doesn’t mean your fantasy team can’t do a bit of blocking on their own. If you’re at or near the top of the waiver priority list, you have a significant edge over other players to block a potential selection.
For example, let’s say Bengals QB Joe Burrow suffers an injury that sidelines him for a few weeks and the top player in your league now has to scramble for a QB. Well, you be the cunning person you are can look at the QBs in the league and select the best one from the waiver wire, essentially “blocking” their selection. This strategy also works great if you want to 'squeeze' your upcoming opponent who isn't prepared for their QB bye week.
The scenarios will change, but this is a great idea to stall momentum or prevent an opponent from adding a new starter or depth.
If you’re playing in an FAAB league, you have a waiver wire budget for the year. So you have full reign over what players you select and what you’re willing to bid. If you really want a player, you can go all in on a selection; alternatively, you can save your cash for the right time or just put trust in your team.
The idea is that fantasy players may overreact or panic if a starter has a bad game. As such, you can pounce on a cut player no matter what the cost, or you can play it safe and scoop someone up later in the year simply because you have more cash than everyone else.
Be smart, don’t panic, and look for value. Most of all, remember that any unused cash is a lost opportunity.
You may have heard the term “waiver hawk” before. It’s a fantasy player who constantly retools their lineup through the waiver wire to add outstanding performers or streaky players. It’s a highly risky venture, but one that can pay off with the right analytics. A lot of research shows the best fantasy managers are usually the most active on the waiver wire, constantly searching for fantasy gold.
Wise Guys Edge can help you determine what players Vegas expects to breakout and with a bit of your own research—like looking at how a waiver wire player performs in certain conditions, against a specific team, or whether they’re on the uptick—can all play a vital role in becoming the waiver hawk that dominates a league.
If you’ve been a fantasy player for years but you’ve never won your league Super Bowl championship, the problem could lie in your waiver wire transactions. Snooze too long on the right players, and you could miss out on arguably the most crucial in-season opportunity for success.
Always keep an eye on breakout performances and plan your attack accordingly for next week’s kickoff. You just might find that touchdown machine that’s been absent from your attack.
If you want to add another tool to your arsenal that’s every bit as effective as conducting a mock draft, selecting the right players, or watching the waiver wire, check out Wise Guys Edge.
We use odds from Vegas sportsbooks and avoid the trendy expert advice given to you by people just looking for clicks or generic, overbaked ideas on who to start each week. With this competitive advantage, you might just find your edge that translates to a championship.