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NFL teams can now return three players from injured reserve — and more rule changes!

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Related: NFL’s competition committee wants to close a loophole recently exploited by the Patriots

NFL: New England Patriots at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Eight years ago, the NFL introduced a new system of managing the injured reserve list: beginning with the 2012 season, teams were allowed to bring one player per season back to their active roster after previously having moved them to IR. The New England Patriots quickly decided to use this new rule by reactivating tight end Visanthe Shiancoe in mid-November of his first (and only) year with the team — a moderately successful decision.

Through the years that followed, however, the Patriots repeatedly used the IR-return system to their advantage and to bolster their teams mid-season. Just last year they reactivated both wide receiver N’Keal Harry and left tackle Isaiah Wynn after they had previously suffered injuries to their ankle and toe. New England was able to do bring two players back instead of one because of a rule change first implemented during the 2017 offseason.

Just three years later, the system introduced back then is already antiquated. Earlier on Thursday, the NFL’s ownership decided to amend the bylaw governing the return off injured reserve by allowing an additional player to come back during the season (changes in strikethrough/italics):

(C) Designated Free Activation from Reserve Injured and Reserve NonFootball Injury/Illness. During each season a team will be permitted to return two three players from either the Reserve/Injured or the Reserve/NonFootball Injury/Illness List to its 53-player Active/Inactive List. Such players must have suffered a major football-related injury or non-football related injury or illness (defined as an injury that renders the player physically unable to practice or play football for a period of at least six weeks [42 calendar days] from the date that the injury or illness occurred) after reporting to training camp and must have been placed on the applicable Reserve List after 4:00 p.m., New York time, on the day after the final roster reduction. A player who is eligible to return must be noted as “Designated for Return” on the first day that he returns to practice.

As stated in the rule, teams are now allowed to bring three players back from IR. They can only do so, however, if those players have been moved to the reserve list after the final roster cutdowns from 90 to 53 (or, beginning next year, 55).

This means that players such as David Andrews or Brandon King, who were placed on IR as part of roster cutdowns last year, would still remain ineligible to return: if you want an injured player to come back, he needs to be on your active team at least one day into the 53/55-man roster period. Still, bringing three players back from injured reserve from now on gives the league’s teams more flexibility to adapt to injuries suffered during the season.

As part of the adapted bylaw, the NFL also voted to approve a change in return procedure: while players previously had to sit out eight weeks before being allowed to rejoin the active roster, they will now have to sit out eight games. The proposal reads as follows:

A player is ineligible to practice until six weeks have elapsed since the date he was placed on Reserve, and is not eligible to return to the Active/Inactive List until eight weeks games have elapsed since the date he was placed on Reserve. (A regular season bye week does not count as a game. Conversely, a postseason bye week counts as a game).

This change makes sense from the NFL’s perspective, because it levels the playing field and does not give players and advantage who find themselves on injured reserve during the bye week.


The NFL’s ownership committee also voted to adopt three more changes to its playing rules. One of them was proposed by the Philadelphia Eagles, the other two by the league’s competition committee:

2. By Philadelphia; to amend Rule 15, Section 2, to make permanent the expansion of automatic replay reviews to include scoring plays and turnovers negated by a foul, and any successful or unsuccessful Try attempt.​​

8. By Competition Committee; expands defenseless player protection to a kickoff or punt returner who is in possession of the ball but who has not had time to avoid or ward off the impending contact of an opponent.

9. By Competition Committee; prevents teams from manipulating the game clock by committing multiple dead-ball fouls while the clock is running.​

Likewise, the most controversial proposal — introducing a 4th-and-15 attempt as an alternative to the onside kick — was tabled: according to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, the vote was split 16-16. For a rule or bylaw change proposal to be adopted, 24 of the league’s 32 teams will have to vote in favor of it.