Injured Reserve

As has been the case throughout the preseason and season so far, we saw several key players moved to teams’ injured reserve lists this week. Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel, Chargers running back Danny Woodhead, and Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch are among the players who headed to the IR within the last several days, opening up a spot on their clubs’ active rosters for their teams to replace them.

The injured reserve designation is generally – though not always – used for players who will be out for the season. That’s especially the case with players like Woodhead, whose team will want to keep him around beyond this year. Woodhead signed a two-year contract extension with San Diego in July, so there’s little chance the club moves forward in 2015 without him in the mix. That means Woodhead will spent this season on IR, earning his full salary, and will plan on returning to the Chargers’ active roster next year.

That’s not the case for every player who lands on injured reserve though. Particularly during the preseason, we see players who weren’t part of their teams’ long-term plans hit the IR list, only to be cut several days later. Generally, these cases involve players who aren’t suffering from season-ending injuries, and receive injury settlements from their respective clubs in order to release those clubs from any liability.

For instance, let’s say a player is injured during the final week of the preseason with a high ankle sprain, and the player and team both agree that the injury will sideline him for three weeks. The club could place that player on injured reserve, then cut him with a two-week regular-season injury settlement (since the final preseason week is also taken into account). That would allow the player to receive 2/17ths of his season salary, and allow him to look for work with a new club when he gets healthy. If the club were to keep the player on injured reserve rather than removing him with a settlement, it would be required to cut him when he gets healthy.

Teams who release a player from IR with a settlement are eligible to re-sign that player later in the season, if they so choose. But they must wait six weeks, on top of the time of the initial settlement. In that previous example then, a club would have to wait until after Week 8 to re-sign the player with the high ankle sprain.

Players who remain on their clubs’ injured reserve lists all season continue to receive their full salary, which also counts against their teams’ salary caps. The Rams are one club that has an inordinate amount of what is essentially “dead money” sitting on injured reserve this season, since highly-paid quarterback Sam Bradford landed on the IR before the season begin.

In some instances, players agree to “split contracts” when they sign with a club, which means that the player will receive a smaller salary if he lands on injured reserve. Split contracts, which are worth less than the active roster minimum salaries, are fairly rare, and are primarily signed by undrafted rookies or veterans with injury histories.

One additional quirk related to the injured reserve list is the option each team has to designate one IR player to return each season. With the IR-DTR spot, a club can place a player on IR, but bring him back to practice after six weeks, and back to game action after eight weeks. Once a team uses this designation once, it can’t use it again that season, though not every club necessarily gets the opportunity to make use of it. Here’s our list of how teams have used the IR-DTR slot so far this season.

Note: This is a PFR Glossary entry. Our glossary posts will explain specific rules relating to free agency, trades, or other aspects of the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. Information from The National Football Post was used in the creation of this post.

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