The NFL has decided to tweak their injured reserve rules a little bit for the 2016. While the change isn't sweeping, it's a good step in the right direction to improve the product of the game.
Every team has the ability to place one player on the injured reserve list with the designation to return (DTR). This means that the player will be unable to practice for six weeks, but they would be eligible to return to the squad. The goal was to allow teams more flexibility with regards to injured players, so teams wouldn't have to stash a hurt player on the roster.
When the rule was established in 2012, players would have to be labeled as DTR when they were placed on the injured reserve. The 2016 rule tweak removes the need to label the player as DTR, opening up the door for every player that has been placed on the injured reserve.
Last season, the Patriots placed center Bryan Stork on the injured reserve with the DTR distinction prior to the week 1 opener. Therefore, the Patriots were unable to label any other player on the IR with a chance to return. So when cornerback Tarell Brown was placed on the injured reserve before the Patriots week 6 game, there was no option for the veteran corner to return.
Perhaps, if this rule change applied last season, the Patriots would have been fine with rookie David Andrews at center and would have decided to not activate Stork, but instead save the DTR distinction for Brown. And then if another short-term injury occurred before making the decision on Brown, the Patriots could make a different decision.
Essentially, this rule change gives teams a lot more flexibility with regards to managing injured players. This is a good move. Hopefully the league will continue to move to allow unlimited DTR tags so all players can have the option to return to the field after a short-term injury.
The Patriots used the DTR distinction on defensive tackle Sealver Siliga in 2014, running back Shane Vereen in 2013, and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe in 2012.