Ever since the NFL introduced the ability to recall a player to the active roster from injured reserve, it necessitated, in the event that that player were injured in the offseason, that he be on the initial 53-man roster first. The league is looking to do away with that going forward, per a bylaw to be considered next month during the owner’s meetings.
Requiring that a player be on the 53-man roster in order to be eligible to return from injured reserve obligated teams to put another player at risk that they would intend to later re-sign to the 53-man roster once they moved said player to injured reserve.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are just one of many teams who have had to play this juggling game over the years. in 2018, for example, they had to carry Olasunkanmi Adeniyi on the initial 53-man roster to retain his eligibility to return that season. They used Nat Berhe to be the turnaround player.
In 2017, it was Cameron Sutton, then a rookie, who had to be placed on injured reserve. Steven Johnson, a veteran outside linebacker, was used as the turnaround guy. He was also the turnaround guy the year prior when they had to accommodate Bud Dupree’s move to injured reserve. And in 2015, Doug Legursky was held over as they placed Maurkice Pouncey on injured reserve. In 2013, Matt Spaeth started the year on injured reserve, and rookie Terence Garvin was exposed.
2013 was the second year in which the rule was in place, and the first in which the requirement the player be on the initial 53-man roster was exempted. In only two years—2014 and 2019—since then, the Steelers have had to release a player who would otherwise have been on the initial 53-man roster in order to accommodate these players who were injured prior to the start of the regular season.
In other words, it’s a common occurrence, enough that the league is looking, finally, to address the great pointlessness of requiring that a player be on the initial 53-man roster in order to be designated to return, even if he is injured in August.
If the bylaw is approved, teams would be able to place players on injured reserve on the day before final roster cuts and still have those players retain their eligibility to be designated for return later in the season. This is only being considered for a one-year trial basis, however, so even if approved, it would have to be revisited next year.