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NFL roster designations primer: Injured Reserve, PUP, NFI, and “Did Not Report”

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We review the different roster/injury designations available to the Cowboys and all other NFL teams as the practice intensity picks up in training camp.

Detroit Lions at Cincinnati Bengals - August 16, 2003 Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

The official Cowboys roster on DallasCowboys.com shows the following players with specific injury/roster designations that are keeping them off the active roster:

  • Active/Non-Football Injury: Kavon Frazier, Randy Gregory
  • Active/Physically Unable to Perform: Maliek Collins
  • Reserve/Did Not Report: David Irving

Additionally, the Cowboys have the option of using the Reserve/Injured designation, which they used for the likes of Rico Gathers, Charles Tapper, and Brian Price last year, and can also use the Reserve/Non-Football Injury designation for players whose injury/Illness happened outside of the purview of the NFL.

Those designations will become an important roster management when the Cowboys have to reduce their roster to 53 players by September 1. So here’s a rundown of the different designations:

Reserve/Did Not Report

This is a pretty straightforward list. A player is placed on this list if he fails to report to training camp by the team-specified date. We know that David Irving did not report to camp because he’s entered a drug rehab facility to deal with substance abuse issues.

Teams have fairly draconian measures at their disposal to deal with such no-shows, though they seldom use them to their full extent. Here’s former player agent Joel Corry of CBSSports explaining the fines that can be levied at a player on this list.

A team can fine a player a maximum of $30,000 for each day of training camp he misses. A player who signed his contract as an unrestricted free agent can be fined one week’s base salary (1/17 of salary) for each preseason game missed in addition to the $30,000 per day.

A team can also recover a portion of a player’s signing bonus. Fifteen percent of the prorated amount of signing bonus can be recouped on the sixth day of a training camp holdout. It’s one percent for each additional missed day with a maximum of 25 percent of the prorated amount during training camp. An additional 25 percent can be recovered with the first missed regular season game. After four missed weeks, a team can recover 1/17 of the prorated amount for each additional week of the player’s absence. The maximum a team can recover in a season is the entire prorated amount of the player’s signing bonus in that contract year.

Importantly, if an under-contract player doesn’t report to training camp by Aug. 9 (30 days before the first regular-season game of the season), that player loses an accrued season.

The issue of the accrued season is critical for players with less than the four accrued seasons it takes to be eligible for unrestricted free agency. Holding out past Aug. 9 would result in losing an accrued season, which in turn would mean the player would be a restricted free agent after four years instead of an unrestricted free agent.

As a team, there’s no point in resorting to such heavy-handed tactics if you still want the player to play for you, but if a team is looking to get rid of a player anyway, this might be one way to recoup whatever is left to recoup from that player’s contract.

Players on this list do not count towards the 90- or 53-man roster limits.

Physically Unable To Perform (PUP) List

There are two types of Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) lists. One is the Active/PUP, the other is the Reserve/PUP.

The Active/PUP is only used in the preseason. The Active/PUP designation is used for players who are unable to start training camp. Once these players are medically cleared, they can immediately join team practices.

Maliek Collins is on this list this year. The Cowboys are notoriously coy about revealing a player’s injury status (when Garrett calls a player “day-to-day,” that can mean anything from one day to multiple weeks), but Collins’ designation means the team expects him be cleared for practice at some point during training camp.

The Reserve/PUP is the regular season equivalent of the Active/PUP, but with slightly different rules. A player on the preseason Active/PUP list automatically moves to Reserve/PUP at the end of training camp, provided he hasn’t practiced with the team. Once a player moves off the Active/PUP list during camp and starts practicing, he is automatically ineligible for Reserve/PUP.

Complicating things is the fact that once a player is moved to Reserve/PUP, he is automatically excluded from practicing or playing with the team for the first six weeks of the season.

The benefit of placing a player on Reserve/PUP is that the player won’t count against the 53-man roster limit. Teams have a six-week window (day after Week 6 to day after Week 11) during which the player can return to practice. If the player is not ready by then, the player either has to be released or moved to season-ending IR. Once a player returns to practice, teams have an extra three-week window before they have to activate the player to the 53-man roster (or release or IR him).

Non-Football Injury (NFI) List

The NFI list is largely similar to the PUP List, except this is for players who suffered their injuries unrelated to NFL football (i.e. away from NFL team activities). Ironically, despite its name, the NFI also covers injuries sustained during activities such as college football. In 2016, rookie LB Jaylon Smith was put on this list due the knee injury he suffered in college.

Kavon Frazier and Randy Gregory are both on this list - Frazier for an as-yet-undiagnosed blood clotting issue, Gregory for not quite being in training camp shape yet.

Terrance Williams narrowly avoided being placed on this list by showing up and practicing on the first day of camp. But because he suffered his broken foot while working out on his own, and not as part of mandated NFL conditioning, NFL practice, or an NFL game, he would have been placed on the NFI list had he missed time.

The Active/NFI designation means players can return to practice at any time once medically cleared. When players start practicing with the team, they automatically lose their NFI designation.

The Reserve/NFI designation is applied to players who will not return to the active roster during the current season. Typically, this would be applied to rookies who enter the league with a pre-existing injury and have the equivalent of a redshirt season. This could also be applied to players who suffer an injury while handling a gun in a nightclub or playing with fireworks, to use just two random examples.

For both the PUP and the NFI lists, “Active” designates a player who counts against the NFL roster limits, “Reserve” designates a player who doesn’t count against a roster limit, be it the 90-man or 53-man limit. However, regardless of active/reserve status, all players on PUP and NFI (and on injured reserve) count against a team’s salary cap during the season

One key difference between NFI and PUP lists is that teams can withhold parts of the salary of players on NFI. This largely punitive and seldom-used option is available when a team feels it is not responsible for injuries suffered by players on their own time, but it is not as easy to implement as it may sound.

After Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg in 2008, the Giants tried to withhold a portion of his bonus. That attempt was ultimately denied by a special master, who ruled Burress’ taking a gun into a night club didn’t constitute a “willful” act to prevent himself from reporting for practice and games.

Injured Reserve

Teams can place any number of players on injured reserve (technically: “reserve/injured list”). Any player placed on the IR list counts against the cap, but not against the roster limit. Players on IR may not practice with the team at any time, but can attend team meetings, and generally be around the team as much as they like. In principle, these players are ineligible to play again (for the same team) during the ongoing season, but there’s an exception:

IR - Return designation

This designation has undergone quite a few changes over the last few years.

The NFL began allowing teams to bring back one player from IR in 2012, though that player had to sit out at least eight weeks and had to be “designated for return” when placed on IR. In 2016, the NFL adjusted the rule, no longer requiring that a player be designated up front, which effectively allowed teams to bring back whichever player they wanted to from IR, provided that player had spent at least eight weeks on IR.

Last year, the league again amended the rule and now allows any two players to be brought back from IR during the season, as long as those players spent at least eight weeks on IR.

Suspended List

Players who have been suspended by the NFL are not eligible for PUP (unless they have a pre-existing injury situation that’s keeping them out of practice). Suspended players are allowed to practice and play in preseason games. David Irving would have been put on this list had he not entered rehab and thus been placed on Reserve/DNR list. Whether he will be available at any point during camp and preseason is anybody’s guess.

During final roster cuts, Irving will be moved to an inactive or reserve list and will not count against the 53-man roster limit.