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NFL rule changes: Teams can now return three players from the injured reserve

4th and 15 onside kick alternative once again fails to pass

San Francisco 49ers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Beginning in the 2012 season, the NFL introduced a new system that helped teams manage the injured reserved list. Teams could bring one player per season back to their active roster per season after previously having placed them on injured reserve. In 2017, the NFL changed the rule and allowed teams to bring back two players that had already been placed on IR. On Thursday, the NFL’s ownership amended the rule once again:

(C) Designated Free Activation from Reserve Injured and Reserve NonFootball Injury/Illness. During each season a team will be permitted to return three players from either the Reserve/Injured or the Reserve/NonFootball Injury/Illness List to its 53-player Active/Inactive List. Such players must have suffered a major football-related injury or non-football related injury or illness (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 or illness occurred) after reporting to training camp and must have been placed on the applicable Reserve List 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” on the first day that he returns to practice.

The one caveat to returning three players from IR is those players must be moved to the reserve list after the final roster cutdowns from 90 to 55.

Think the San Francisco 49ers wouldn’t have benefited from this last season?

Let’s talk hypotheticals since that’s what we do during the offseason anyway. The playoffs roll around, and Weston Richburg, Kwon Alexander, and D.J. Jones are all healthy. The 49ers would have had to pick two. That won’t be the case anymore. It’d be ideal if the 49ers are never faced with having to bring back a player from the IR, but in such a violent sport injuries are inevitable. Being able to bring back a third player gives teams more wiggle room. The old rules are outdated. If a player is healthy, he should be able to return to the field. Why do we need limitations on this rule?

As part of the adapted bylaw, the NFL also voted to approve a change in return procedure: while players previously had to sit out eight weeks before being allowed to rejoin the active roster, they will now have to sit out eight games. The proposal reads as follows:

A player 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 games have elapsed since the date he was placed on Reserve. (A regular season bye week does not count as a game. Conversely, a postseason bye week counts as a game).

The NFL’s ownership committee also voted to adopt three more changes to its playing rules. The Philadelphia Eagles proposed one of them, the other two by the league’s competition committee:

2. By Philadelphia; to amend Rule 15, Section 2, to make permanent the expansion of automatic replay reviews to include scoring plays and turnovers negated by a foul, and any successful or unsuccessful Try attempt.​​

8. By Competition Committee; expands defenseless player protection to a kickoff or punt returner who is in possession of the ball but who has not had time to avoid or ward off the impending contact of an opponent.

9. By Competition Committee; prevents teams from manipulating the game clock by committing multiple dead-ball fouls while the clock is running.​

Likewise, the most controversial proposal — introducing a 4th-and-15 attempt as an alternative to the onside kick — was tabled: according to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, the vote was split 16-16. For a rule or bylaw change proposal to be adopted, 24 of the league’s 32 teams will have to vote in favor of it.