NFL Issues New Rules For IR Activations

Here at Pro Football Rumors, our main focus is on transactions. We are sure to note any time a player is placed on injured reserve, and not only do we make sure to cover any activations from IR, but we also track the number activations each team uses in accordance with the IR activation rules. In 2024, those rules will be slightly different, per Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.

The main spirit of the rules will remain the same. Throughout the regular season and postseason, each NFL squad will have the ability to designate a player on its IR for return. Over the course of the regular season, each team will be able to make such a designation eight times.

Once placed on IR, a player will be forced to miss four games before they are eligible to return to the active roster. Once designated to return from IR, that player will have a 21-day window during which they can practice with their team before ultimately being activated from IR. If, by the end of the 21-day practice window, that team makes the decision not to return the player to the active roster, that player will be forced to remain on IR for the remainder of the season. If a player returns from IR in the season and gets hurt again, they are able to be designated for return once more but only twice in a single season. Both designations count against the team’s restricted count for the season.

There are two main changes with the rule: one pertaining to the start of the season and one pertaining to the postseason. Before the new rule, any player placed on IR before the start of the regular season would not be eligible to return later in the season. In order to be eligible for return, a player injured before the season began would need to spend one day after final roster cuts on the 53-man roster before then being placed on IR. The new rule stipulates that, on the final day of roster cuts, teams can now designate two players on its preseason IR list for return. Those two players will count against the team’s allotted eight for the regular season, but teams will now have two extra spots on the 53-man roster to hold on to fringe players who otherwise would become free agents before potentially signing to the practice squad.

The postseason rule change sees each team granted two additional designations in the postseason. If a team has utilized all eight of their designations from the regular season, they will be granted two more in the postseason; if a team has utilized zero designations throughout the regular season, they will now have 10 usable designations in the postseason. This allows teams to be a bit more judicious in how they will utilize their remaining designations late in the season if they are on track to make the playoffs.

While the postseason rule change is grabbing more headlines, the preseason designation allowance is, perhaps, far more impactful. In the end, only 14 playoff teams will be able to utilize the postseason rule, allowing for 28 additional players to return in the final month of the season, assuming every team utilizes all of its remaining designations and the recovery of key athletes just happens to align with that timeline.

With the new preseason rule, teams will no longer have to reserve space on their initial 53-man rosters for players who cannot play but could return later in the season. Or, at least, they won’t have to reserve two spots on the initial 53-man roster for those players. If every team decides to utilize this new rule, that would mean 64 players would get roster spots who otherwise would not have made the final roster with the rules from 2023. And teams will now have two players apiece whom they will not have to give up to the waiver wire and free agency at the end of August.

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