As announced by the NFL, the return to practice by a player who lands on injured reserve with the “Designated for Return” label did not mention a limited window for placing the player on the 53-man roster or returning him to IR for the bulk of the season. As explained to NFLPA-certified agents, the new rule applies a three-week up-or-out period after the player on IR returns to practice.
Specifically, agents have been informed that a player who returns to practice after missing at least six weeks with a “major injury” may practice for up to 21 days. If at the conclusion of the 21st day the player has not been added to the 53-man roster, he cannot return to the 53-man roster for the rest of the season.
It’s similar to the procedure the NFL applies to players who start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform List or the Non-Football Illness/Injury list. Those players must miss the first six weeks of the regular season. They then have a three-week window to return to practice. Once they return to practice, they have a three-week window for activation to the roster.
There are two important differences. The six-week period for players injured after training camp has opened begins from the moment the player lands on IR, which means that the six-week period can expire, in theory, before Week Six. Also, there’s no deadline for bringing the player back to practice. It can happen any time after the six-week period ends. Also, the player can return to game action any time after the eight-week period ends.
It’s a minor detail, but it could be an important factor to consider when a team decides to bring a player on IR back to practice. Once he’s back, he has only 21 days to be activated.