The 32nd overall selection of the 2019 NFL draft will have to keep waiting for his debut: the New England Patriots placed wide receiver N’Keal Harry on their injured reserve list earlier today, with a follow-up moving seeing the return of previously released veteran pass catcher Demaryius Thomas to the active roster. While Thomas’ role with the team will look as expected, Harry will start the year sidelined due to an ankle issue.
But what exactly does this mean for the 21-year old and the Patriots? Let’s answer the most pressing questions at this point in time.
Will Harry miss the entire 2019 season?
Not necessarily. The severity of his ankle injury — one he suffered during the preseason opener and that has kept him out since then — will determine whether or not he can return further down the line. The expectation is that he will be back on the Patriots’ 53-man roster at one point this season, with the rules building a framework allowing for a comeback in 2019. That was not the case before the rules were changed in 2012.
So Harry can return to the active roster again?
Yes, he can. The NFL allows two players to return off the injured reserve list if they were placed there following roster cutdowns. In order to ensure a potential return further down the line, the Patriots kept Harry on their 53-man squad through Saturday’s deadline and waited to put him on IR until today. With the team following this procedural pattern, the first-round pick can return later during the regular season if he is healthy.
When can Harry return?
The NFL differentiates between two returns: a player’s return to practice, and a player’s return to the actual active roster.
Practice: Per NFL rules, Harry will have to sit out at least the first six weeks of the season before he is allowed to rejoin his teammates in practice. Once he does that and steps onto the practice fields, he becomes designated one of the IR-return players. At that point, there is no way back: he either gets activated within the 21-day window that opens or stays on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.
Games: If Harry returns to the Patriots after week six, he would be allowed to play in a game after week eight. Given the 21-day window mentioned above, of course, the team could take some more time to reactivate him and instead save an additional roster spot until the last possible moment. Realistically, the club will activate Harry sooner rather than later but may keep him out of in-game action until after its week ten bye.
Will other players be allowed to come back as well?
As noted above, two players are eligible to be reactivated off injured reserve if placed there after cutdown day. With Harry expected to be one of the designated returnees, the Patriots would have only one spot remaining. Of course, players such as center David Andrews or special teams ace Brandon King are ineligible to come back. Only players moved to IR from roster cutdowns on — such as Harry — can return. As of right now, though, there are no such candidates on the Patriots’ injured reserve list.