PUP, NFI primarily a CYA device for NFL teams

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Every year at this time we all get a refresher course on the physically unable to perform (PUP) and non-football injury/illness (NFI) lists.  Which is good, because every year at this time I inevitably make a factual error or a bad assumption regarding the nuances and details of the corresponding rules.

This year, I mistakenly assumed (ass, you, me) that the placement of a player on the PUP or NFI list frees up a spot on the 90-man roster, until the player slides from PUP or NFI over to the roster.  Actually, the player remains on the 90-man roster while on the active PUP or active NFI list.  (I assume — ass, you, me — that I was aware of this in the past, and that I’d simply forgotten about it.)

I assumed (ass, you, me) that the player on PUP or NFI didn’t count against the active roster because that would be the obvious benefit of using those devices.  If that’s not one of the benefits, what is?

Teams, we’ve now learned (or re-learned) have multiple reasons for doing it.  First, it gets the attention of the player who is kept away from practicing.  (Or at least it should get the attention of the player who is kept away from practicing.)  Second, for potentially serious injuries, it preserves the team’s ability to place the player on the reserve/PUP or reserve/NFI list, which doesn’t end the player’s season.  (Once the player passes a physical and starts practicing, he can be placed only on injured reserve, which ends his season unless he’s the one guy the team designates for return, at least eight weeks later.)

Third, and more importantly, placement of a player on PUP or NFI limits future liability for salary and bonuses, if the player were to later claim that he was injured during training camp or the preseason.

Putting the player on the active roster at training camp indicates that the player has passed a physical and has a clean bill of health.  It means that any future injuries are due to something that happened going forward.  Teams have learned over time, and through the resolution of various grievances, that a team is in better position slam the door on future money by putting the player on PUP or NFI.

The team will occupy an even better position financially by using the NFI list, which by its name means the player’s injury happened while doing something other than playing or practicing football.

So that’s why teams use it.  And by next year, we’ll forget all about it and have to learn and explain it again.