Once upon a time, the injured reserve designation would automatically rule a player out for the entire season. But, thanks to an update in 2012 and many tweaks over the last eight years, that’s no longer the case.
In 2012, the NFL and the players’ union agreed that each team could bring back one player from IR, though that player had to be designated before Week 1 of the ’12 season. Gradually, that rule was revamped to allow every team to return two players from IR each year, with the flexibility to make that determination midway through the season as teams monitored each player’s recovery.
Still, the basic parameters applied – the players had to spend a minimum of six weeks on injured reserve without practicing. After that, they’re permitted to practice, but they’re required to wait at least another two weeks before seeing live action. That’s the minimum amount of time. If the player isn’t activated after ~21 days, they’re no longer eligible to play that season. It’s known as the “three week window” in the NFL, and teams cannot reuse that return spot if the player isn’t good to go. So, while the revamped rule gives teams some much-needed flexibility, there’s still a lot that goes into the decision.
In May, the NFL gave the rule yet another facelift. Going forward, teams will be allowed to bring three players back from IR each season to provide a little extra padding for clubs strained by injuries and the limitations of the 53-man roster.