The NFL Owners met this week to talk about some possible rules changes, and approved three major proposals, first mandating knee and thigh pads for all players. More significantly, they've approved the proposal to move the trade deadline back two weeks and to also create an Injured Reserve exemption rule that gives teams one spot for a 'marquee player' that can return in the same season he is placed on IR. All three are pending approval and agreement from the Management Council and the NFL Players Association
If they go through, the NFL Trade Deadline will move from Week Six to Week Eight, giving teams two extra weeks to assess their injury and competitive situations and make moves based on all the varying factors. This change makes a lot of sense - injuries are a part of the game, but comes early enough in the season to maintain the competitive balance. Teams that lose major players at certain positions now have an extra couple of weeks to address their deficiencies mid-season.
As for the Injured Reserve exemption, the language is a little tricky and I've seen it described in a few different ways. Per the AP, owners voted "to allow one "marquee" player placed on injured reserve to return to practice after the sixth week of the schedule and to the lineup after the eighth week. That player must be on the 53-man roster after the final preseason cut."
I've seen it described in two ways - the first interpretation is that after Week Six the player can come back to practice and after Week Eight they can return to the field. I, on the other hand, interpret it that teams will now have the option of placing one injured player on what becomes, essentially, an 8-week Disabled List, similar to the 60-day DL in baseball. If said player is on the team's 53-man roster to start the year, then subsequently suffers a major injury - but one that can be returned from in several months - they no longer face a lost season. Six weeks after being placed on the Marquee Player IR list, he can return to practice. Eight weeks after that injury, he can return to the field. PFW and Pro Football Talk describe it as a '60-day DL' type of situation, but I've seen a lot of stories describing it otherwise. I'd wait for the official description before taking it to the bank - but either way, I really like the proposal.
Per that PFW story, "previously, there were shorter versions of the I.R. Up until 1990, players had to sit out six games, and through '93 it became a four-game absence. Those rules were changed to prevent teams from illegally stashing players on I.R. - either prospects who are not ready to perform or players whose injuries are minor, or nonexistent. The NFL still has the PUP list designation that allows injured players to return to action during the season, but those players cannot take the field before landing on the list and must wait to return during a three-week window of Weeks 7-10."
Teams would likely save this Marquee Player IR option until mid-season, especially playoff caliber teams, in case a key player goes down. If that 'marquee' player sustains an injury that would sideline him for a month or more, instead of sitting on the bench and taking up a valuable roster spot for that amount of time while that player rehabs, teams can instead elect to use their IR exemption and activate another player that will contribute in that timeframe. Said marquee player could rejoin the team after six weeks to practice, then return to the field after eight weeks from being placed on the DL (as I interpret it).
Again, these rules will need to be approved and agreed upon by the players union. There is already a good amount of opposition to the knee and thigh pad rules, but we'll have to see what the Players Union thinks of the I.R. Exemption and the trade deadline move.