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2020 NFL roster cuts: How does injured reserve work and what does it mean for the Patriots?

Related: Patriots roster cuts: How does the practice squad work and what does it mean for New England?

New England Patriots Practice Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

With roster cutdown weekend over, the New England Patriots can now start fully focusing on their regular season opener against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. This process, however, could also include making additional roster moves: teams are now able to move players to the injured reserve list while having the opportunity to bring them back to the active roster at a later point during the season.

Injured reserve, of course, looks quite different in 2020 compared to years past — so let’s dissect what it is and what it means for the Patriots.

What is injured reserve?

In its essence, injured reserve allows teams to stash players that have suffered an injury that would keep them out for a prolonged period of time.

Until 2012, every player moved to the list was shut down for the remainder season without the option to be brought back. Since then, however, teams can return talent off IR — one player at first (tight Visanthe Shiancoe was New England’s first ever choice to be brought back in 2012), and later two — after a certain period of time has passed: a player had to miss at least eight weeks before being eligible to player in a game again.

Those rules, however, have changed this year.

What has changed for the 2020 season?

The NFL-NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement that was signed earlier this year allowed teams to return three players off IR per season compared to the previous two. However, the Coronavirus pandemic altered the picture once again. Teams can now bring back an unlimited number of players if those moved to injured reserve meet the following two requirements

1.) The player was moved to injured reserve no earlier than Sunday, September 6, 4 pm.

2.) The player has missed at least three weeks of regular season play.

Players sent to IR before the roster cutdown deadline on Saturday, September 5, 4 pm, meanwhile, are ineligible to be brought back this season. The Patriots have two players falling under this category: wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo and defensive tackle Michael Barnett were moved to IR ahead of Saturday’s deadline and will therefore not play this season unless released off the list with a settlement.

This means that all players currently on New England’s active roster and practice squad are in theory — if their injuries allow it — eligible to be reactivated in case they get moved to injured reserve.

What implications does this have on the Patriots?

New England returned to the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium on Sunday, and three players were absent: running back Damien Harris, wide receiver Gunner Olszewski and defensive tackle Beau Allen. While the reason for Olszewski’s and Allen’s absences is not known at this point in time, Harris is dealing with a finger injury that had to be surgically attended — an issue that could possibly keep him out for up to a month.

The Patriots could decide to move the second-year running back to injured reserve on Monday (or at a later point) to clear up his roster spot, without having to worry about any return spots being taken. The same can also be applied to Allen, who was not spotted all open training camp long, and Olszewski, as well as any other player dealing with injuries that are not considered season-threatening — no matter if suffered now or later during the year.

Players that are moved to injured reserve, by the way, will still be counting against New England’s salary cap.