In the National Football League (NFL), the leading professional American football league, a player who has suffered an injury severe enough to make him lose one or more games could be placed on the injured (IR) list by his team. Any injured player remains under contract with the team but cannot train or play in that team’s games for the rest of the season. Even a player in IR does not count for the purposes of the limit of 53 players on the team, so the team can hire another player as a replacement. As of June 2012, the NFL was revising its rules to allow one player per team to be included in the IR and still be eligible to play in games later that season, under certain circumstances, but the rule change had not been finalized .
The NFL limits the number of players a team can have on its roster. During the season, the limit is 53 players. Only 46 of these players can be on the active list for a game and the seven inactive players cannot play that day. In some cases, a player who has suffered an injury will simply be made inactive for games until he is healthy enough to play again.
When a player’s injury is significant enough to keep him out of one or more games, the team has a chance to put him in reserve for the injured and hire another player on its 53-man list. This will allow the team to activate the replacement player if necessary. If the player has a long-term injury, he will almost always be put in IR. When the player may be healthy enough to play after some games or before the end of the season – or when the team is not sure how long it will take to recover the player – the team must consider all possibilities and make a decision on whether to put the player in reserve for the injured.
Status and salaries of injured players
Players usually don’t like to be put in reserve for the injured. For many players, the main reason is that it prevents them from playing for the rest of the season. Some players may believe they can play that season again after recovering from injuries, but being put in reserve for the injured makes it impossible. A player cannot refuse to go to IR, because the team checks his status within the league as long as he continues to pay for it according to his contract.
Many players also earn less if they are placed on the IR list, which is sometimes referred to as a reserve/injured list. Players often accept contracts that include reduced salaries if they go to IR. Often called split salaries, they are usually between 40 percent and 70 percent of regular players’ salaries. Not all contracts include reduced salaries for players who are put in IR. The collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) also sets minimum amounts for the players’ split salaries.
Compensation for injuries
When a player has an injury that would not normally keep him out of the game for the rest of the season, the team could also agree on an injury deal with him and release him instead of putting him in reserve for the injured. Compensation for injury is usually a sum of money equal to what the player would receive in salary during the period in which he is recovering from the injury. The release allows the player to sign a contract with another team and, when he is healthy again, to play the games of that season. For example, a player who has an ankle sprain that would prevent him from playing for four weeks could accept a four-week pay injury compensation instead of being put in IR for the rest of the season. He could then sign with a new team and play after recovering.
Proposed change of rules
In 2012, the NFL proposed a rule change that would allow one player per team to be temporarily placed in the injured reserve instead of for the rest of the season. The player would have to be on the team’s roster during the first week of the regular season to qualify for this exception. He would not be allowed to practice or play for the first six weeks after being put in IR and would have to skip at least eight games before he could play again. This rule had to be approved by the NFLPA before it could come into effect.
The NFL also has other designations for players who are injured and cannot play. The Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list is for players who have injured themselves during a previous season and have not fully recovered. If a player suffers an injury by doing something other than playing, training and training with his team, he could be placed on the non-sports injury list (NFI).
As a player on IR, a player on one of these lists does not count for the purposes of his team’s roster limit. He may receive a reduced salary, if it is allowed by his contract, or he may not be paid at all if he has suffered a non-football injury. The PUP and NFI lists also have their own rules regarding things like who can be placed on the lists, what players can do while they are on these lists, how long they can be on the lists, and the circumstances in which players are allowed to start practicing and playing again.