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CBA 101: Reserve Lists

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Part six in an ongoing series meant to demystify the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA.

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A question came up recently in the comments section about a player on IR. In answering that question, I realized there are enough rules governing Reserve statuses to make an article out of them. Though this could technically be considered a Bylaws 101 article, I think it fits well with the theme of previous CBA 101 articles.

Previously in CBA 101: Retirement | Salary Cap | Free Agents | Draft and Rookie Contracts | Definitions

Reserve Lists

The different lists are as follows:

  • Retired
  • Did not report
  • Left squad
  • Injured
  • Physically unable to perform
  • N-F/I (Non-football injury or illness)
  • Military
  • Selected in Selection Meeting by the club, but never under contract
  • Suspended or declared ineligible/Expelled from the League
Retired

A player may write to the Commissioner stating their intent to retire. Upon approval of the Commissioner, the player can be added to the Reserve/Retired list. If this occurs before the start of training camp, that player must acknowledge that they will not be able to play for any team for the remainder of that season. Should a player decide to seek reinstatement after that season, they will only be eligible to play for the team from which they retired.

Players can seek retirement after the start of the season as well. They are eligible to be reinstated by the commissioner (per their own request) only before the trade deadline of that season. The club may seek reinstatement of a retired player between the trade deadline and the last 30 days of the regular season. No player can be reinstated in the last 30 days.

Nick Hardwick, despite his expected offseason retirement, is not on this list, but rather on the Reserve/Injured list. Players on this list do not count towards roster limits, which vary by the stage of preseason and the regular season.

Did not report

To be eligible for the list, a player needs to not report to training camp by the eligible date depending on their veteran status. This is often seen during contract holdouts, but there are other reasons - such as the case of Adam Podlesh who did not report to Steelers camp this  year in order to tend to his wife who was dealing with complications from a difficult pregnancy.

A team, at their discretion, can fine a player up to $30,000 per day for each day missed, and in the case of Unrestricted Veteran Free Agents who have signed with a team, up to 1 regular season game check per preseason game missed. Additionally, the player is not paid a game check for each regular season game they miss, and their prorated signing bonuses are refunded at a rate of 1% per day for the first 15 days of preseason missed, 25% for missing the entire preseason, and 1/17th of the figure for each game after the 4th game of the regular season.

Players on this list do not count towards roster limits and can only be reinstated at the Commissioner's discretion.

Left Squad

Rather than a holdout or an excused absence, this list is for players who simply leave the team. Once a team places a player on this list, they have 5 days to return to the team. If they do so within 5 days, the club can add them back to the roster (if a spot is available), or cut them as they so choose. Once 5 days have passed, the player can be placed on the Reserve/Retired list, added to the active list (if room is made), or waived. If they ever decide they want to play football again, a player seeking reinstatement from retirement can only play for their original club. In this case, the player does not accrue any seasons for the year spent on reserve, and their contract is "tolled"; a contractual term that describes a pause in the progression of the contract. For example: A player would be paid at their 2013 rate in 2014 if their contract were tolled for the 2013 season.

This happened this year with the Broncos' John Moffit and the Redskins' James Davis, who each left their team (and football entirely) during the preseason. Players on this list do not count towards roster limits.

Injured

The most common designation, and what we refer to as "IR". There a few distinctions that separate this designation from PUP and NF/I. The first is that to qualify, a player must have passed their physical during training camp and been deemed physically able to play. The second requirement is that a player must have been hurt during the course of football activities, either during practice, preseason or a regular season game.

A player on IR cannot engage in any physical activity other than rehab activities. This means no practice or pregame warmups. They can, however, attend team meetings and appear in team gear (jersies, t-shirts, fleeces; but, not pads) on the sidelines of games. Such players are also paid their full game checks while on IR, though some (usually newer) players will have split contract clauses in their Paragraph 5 salaries that pay less when not on the Active/Inactive list.

The severity of the injury is a required component of a request to place a player on IR. A "minor" injury is one that a doctor determines should heal within a maximum of 6 weeks. Such players must be released by the team once their injury has healed, and those players may not rejoin the waiving team. A "major" injury is one that will take more than 6 weeks to heal. The club has the option of carrying the player on IR for the entire season. They may also waive a player from IR, but are required to continue paying their salary if they are still injured at the time of waivers.

All of the previous paragraph can be bypassed by way of a settlement. A player and team may settle in one of two ways. The first way is to agree to waive the player after a certain period of time, not subject to the minor or major designation. This agreement sets the number of weeks the player will be held on IR before being waived. Once waived, if not signed by another team, the player can re-sign with the original club whenever. The second agreement, known as an Injury Settlement, sets a number of weeks for which the player will be paid, but allows the team to immediately waive the player. The key difference is that the player can not re-sign with the original club until 6 weeks from the end of the Injury Settlement.

A further addendum was added to the IR rules in 2012. This allowed a player to be "designated for return" or DFR. This is the only way a non-waived or settled player can return to play for a team the same season, but it is restricted to a single player at a time per team per year. The player must be on the final 53-man roster, or on the 53-man roster when their injury occurred. From the date of the injury (or start of the season), the player cannot practice, but may attend team meetings. After 6 weeks, the player can start practicing. After 8 weeks, the player is eligible to be placed on the 53-man roster as long as there is an open spot.

Recently, the team waived Kwame Geathers, who had been on IR. He had a serious knee injury in preseason, and thus was on IR with a major injury. His release at this point in the season means he must have gotten healthy and could be waived without being owed any more pay. The team did not seem to value him enough to keep him for the second year of his contract. Another example is Vincent Brown. He was placed on IR in the preseason with a minor injury. However, he agreed to take a 2.5 game check injury settlement, which allowed him to be waived immediately and signed by the Raiders. For the second year in a row, Melvin Ingram was hurt, this time in September, and after being designated for return, he returned to the Active lineup in November.

PUP

PUP differs from IR in that a player must fail some condition of their preseason physical in a manner that would keep them from playing. Beyond this, there are actually a two lists: Active/PUP and Reserve/PUP. An Active designation allows a player to participate in rehabilitative workouts up until the second roster cut-down in preseason. At this point, the team must decide whether to waive the player for failing the physical, transfer the player to Reserve/PUP or leave them active, at which point they will be treated as if they had not failed their physical.

A player on the Reserve/PUP immediately is disqualified from practicing or playing in preseason or regular season games for the rest of the year. The exception to this is if the player is able to start practicing at any point between weeks 6 and 9. Depending on when they start, once the player has completed 3 weeks of practice, they are eligible to return to the active list. If they are not able to start practicing in this time period, or are unable to join the active roster after having practiced, the player is no longer eligible to leave the PUP without being waived.

This year Brandon Taylor was waived after failing his physical. Jeromey Clary was initially placed on the Active/PUP list, but was transferred to Reserve at the cuts to 75. He was not able to practice between weeks 6 and 9, so he will remain on PUP for the rest of the season.

Non-Football Injury or Illness

Like it sounds, this category covers players who are unable to play football from injuries that were not sustained as part of conditioning, practice or playing in a game. Interestingly enough, this category covers players hurt during college. A further use of this list is for players in treatment for substance abuse. Players on this list are not eligible to join the team for the remainder of the season unless they have finished treatment for substance abuse.

The 49ers Aldon Smith was placed on this list in 2013 as he battled substance abuse issues and off-field legal troubles.

Military Service

This category covers players who are drafted (into the Armed Forces) and players in some branch of the reserves. Should a player be drafted or called up to active service for a period equal or greater than 14 days, they can be placed on Reserve/Military Service. Such players do not count against a team's roster limit, but will be paid.

Unlike other forms of Reserve, it is easier to return to the Active roster from this designation. To return to the active roster, a player must practice one day for every day of practice missed, up to a maximum of 4 weeks. If said player can participate in a preseason game, this practice requirement is waived. Players fulfilling the 2 week active service must return to the active list within a week of ending their service. Teams do not have to reactivate players whose military service ends after October 15th, but if they choose to do so, such players are eligible for the post-season in addition to the remaining regular season games.

Drafted but not signed

The rookie wage scale has basically eliminated rookie holdouts. However, should a rookie refuse to sign their contract, they are placed on this Reserve designation and do not count against the roster limit. Should a player choose to sign with a CFL team, the drafting team maintains rights to the player for 3 years.

Suspended or declared ineligible/Expelled from the League

Players suspended for violating NFL rules or expelled with some condition for reinstatement fall under this category. While under this designation, the player may not practice or attend meetings, and they are not paid. Upon serving the suspension, the Commissioner can reinstate the player. If a player was on the Active roster before suspension, they can immediately return to the Active roster.

Josh Gordon was suspended for 10 games this season for violating the substance abuse policy. Gordon returned in week 11.