I was asked a very important question by a reader today via email concerning Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Senquez Golson, who underwent surgery on Monday to repair a Lisfranc injury that he suffered during training camp. The question centered around whether or not Golson needs to be on the team’s initial 53-man roster in order to qualify for a possible designated to return later in the season.
The short answer to that question is: Yes.
While the league did vote to amend the bylaws this past offseason concerning when a player needs to be labeled as designated to return from the injured reserve list, the old stipulation of that player needing to be on the team’s initial 53-man roster after the final round of cuts are made still remains in place to the best of my knowledge.
Below is a copy of the 2016 BYLAW PROPOSAL NO. 7:
Amend Article XVII, Section 17.16(C) of the Constitution and Bylaws to read (new language underlined, deleted language struck through):
17.16 The following rules govern Reserve/Injured:
(C) Designated Free Activation from Reserve Injured. During each season a team will be permitted to return one player from the Reserve/Injured List to its 53-player Active/Inactive List. Such player must have suffered a major football-related injury (defined as an injury that renders the player physically unable to practice or play football for a period of at least six weeks [42 calendar days] from the date that the injury occurred) after reporting to training camp and must have been placed on Reserve/Injured after 4:00 p.m., New York time, on the day after the final roster reduction. A player who is eligible to return must be noted as “Designated for Return”
at the time the player is placed on Reserve on the first day that he returns to practice.
who has been designated for return is ineligible to practice until six weeks have elapsed since the date he was placed on Reserve, and is not eligible to return to the Active/Inactive List until eight weeks have elapsed since the date he was placed on Reserve. The business day (prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time) that the player is placed on Reserve counts as the first day.
At any time after the conclusion of the sixth week that a player
designated for return has been on Reserve/Injured, a club is permitted to return him to practice for a period not to exceed 21 calendar days., provided that the club has notified the Player Personnel department of the League office that the player has been Designated for Return, which information shall be promulgated to clubs on that day’s Personnel Notice. Provided that the player has been on Reserve/Injured for at least eight weeks from the date he was placed on Reserve, a club is permitted to return him to its Active/Inactive List at any time during the 21-day practice period, or prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time, on the day after the conclusion of the 21-day period. Clubs are required to notify the League office on the first day of such 21-day practice period, which information shall be promulgated to clubs on that day’s Personnel Notice. No other player on Reserve/Injured shall be permitted to practice or to return to the club’s 53-player Active/Inactive List.
If the player is not returned to the Active/Inactive List prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time, on the day after the conclusion of the 21-day period, he is not eligible to return to that club’s Active/Inactive List for the remainder of the season and postseason. If the club elects to continue to carry the player on Reserve/Injured, the player shall not be permitted to practice or to participate in team or individual drills (contact or non-contact) during the remainder of the season, including postseason. Such players are limited to non-contact rehabilitative work under the supervision of the club’s trainer or physician. Pads and helmets are prohibited during such rehabilitative work. Such players are permitted to attend team meetings, and may
also attend practice sessions, provided they do not participate.
What this all means is that Golson must be on the team’s final 53-man roster following the final round of cuts if the team wants to possibly later issue him the designated to return tag later in the season. The same will go for any other player injured between now and then.
Can the Steelers place Golson on injured reserve prior to then? Sure, but as I have previously stated, they must first wait until after their third preseason game to do so unless they are willing to expose to him to waivers. Taking that route, however, would mean that he won’t qualify for the designated to return tag.
Now, as you can imagine, the Steelers are obviously hoping that they won’t have any other serious injuries between now and the final cut-down date. If they do, and they deem that injured player as having a chance to return later on in the season, then like Golson, they will need to carry him on their initial 53-man roster. The only drawback to that is that the players they might be planning to take the injured players’ spots on the Week 1 53-man roster will either need to be exposed to waivers, or released outright, depending on that players’ accrued years in the league. We saw this happen last year with center Maurkice Pouncey as he was initially on the 53-man roster only to be placed on the Reserve/Injured list with the designated to return tag one day later. When that move was made, center Doug Legursky was re-signed after initially being released a day earlier during the final round of cuts.
As things stand right now, the team might be planning to keep Golson on their roster the entire preseason. That makes sense until all of the preseason games are played as we sit here today. That, of course, is subject to change if more players ultimately suffer long term injuries that aren’t deemed to be season-enders.
Keep a close on this and especially when it comes to predicting your final 53-man roster.