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The NFL May Make A Smart Change To Its IR Rules

Photo credit: Bob Levey/Getty Images
Photo credit: Bob Levey/Getty Images

In addition to the possibility of a shortened overtime, the NFL is about to consider a proposed tweak to its injured reserve rules:

It’s hard to imagine why there’d be an argument against this. It used to be that a player placed on injured reserve had to remain there for the duration of the season. In 2012, the league started allowing teams to designate one player on IR for return; that player has to spend at least six weeks on IR before he can practice, and eight before he can return to play. Last year, the rule was adapted to no longer require teams to identify the designated-for-return player in advance. The proposal expected to be approved next week is a logical extension of that.

Jason Fitzgerald, the owner of, told me he thinks the old requirement that players remain on IR for the season “dates back to teams trying to hoard talent.” A young player, Fitzgerald explained, could fake an injury and be placed on IR to avoid being exposed to waivers. Forcing that player to sit for the year prevented teams from circumventing roster limits by activating that player later in the season. Similarly, the rule kept teams from stashing older players on IR to keep them fresh.


“I think as the league has changed with the practice squads, better cap management, etc., the protections are really no longer needed,” Fitzgerald told me.

What the NFL could use is a short-term disabled list not unlike what exists in Major League Baseball. Right now, the NFL’s active and inactive lists function sort of like a DL, but with tighter roster restrictions. All teams have a 53-man roster limit during the regular season, but they are only permitted to have 46 players active on game days, with seven players declared inactive 90 minutes before kickoff.

A new report from Harvard University comparing the health policies of professional sports leagues suggests that the NFL adopt a seven-day DL for players diagnosed with concussions—a policy that’s already in place in MLB. The study says 80 to 90 percent of concussion symptoms are resolved within seven to 10 days. A DL would also allow teams to replace an injured player’s roster spot in the short-term, though the practice-squad rules currently require players to be exposed to waivers before being moved from the 53-man roster to the practice squad. The Harvard report also recognizes that because players who experience any injury may feel or face pressure to return before they’re fully recovered, it “may also be reasonable” to allow for the seven-day DL to be extended to all injuries.

Fitzgerald suggested taking an idea like that even further.

“My own opinion is each team should get a handful of designations to use each year of varied length,” Fitzgerald said. “Something like six weeks, nine weeks, and 12-plus weeks. I think that would be reasonable.”

Dom Cosentino is a staff writer at Deadspin.

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