The passing of the trade deadline has one major impact on the NFL, apart from the inability to, you know, do trades. With the passing of 4:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday comes a significant change in the status of released players.
Before the trade deadline, any player with four or more years of service becomes a free agent the moment he’s released. After the trade deadline, the player must pass through waivers. If he’s claimed, that’s the team for whom he’ll be playing.
The rule also applies to retired players. If, for example, the Bills were to release the rights to receiver Anquan Boldin (they say they won’t), he’d be eligible to be claimed by the Browns, the 49ers, and so on.
That aspect of the rule applied in a dramatic way 15 years ago, when former NFL cornerback and Hall of Fame frontrunner Deion Sanders wanted to emerge from retirement and play for the Raiders. So Washington released him from the reserve-retired list. And before he could sign with the Raiders, five teams (including the Chargers) made waiver claims.
Why the Chargers? They weren’t contending at the time, but their head coach was Marty Schottenheimer, who had a one-and-done season with Washington in 2001 — and who butted heads with Sanders so hard that Sanders retired.
Regardless of strategy or spite, it’s a tool that all teams now have as to any player who is released, through the end of the season and until the league year resets in March.