On Tuesday, the NFL approved a new rule in which one "marquee" player can return to the active roster from IR per season. Naturally, the move has been generally applauded by football fans that have grown tired of seeing their favorite players get hurt early in the season and miss an entire year.
Our question, however, is this: would the new rule have been applicable for Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson last season? The answer is not immediately obvious.
The Associated Press report on the new rule reads as follows: "The owners also 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."
Tom Brady (injured in Week 1 in 2008) and Terrell Suggs (who hurt his Achilles in early May) are mentioned by the report as players that would be covered by the new rule. By rule, either of those players would have been (or would conceivably be) eligible to return to practice after Week 6, and to participate in live game action after Week 8.
What is not made obvious, however, is how a later-season injury would fit into the criteria. Jackson, if you'll remember, was injured in Week 11 last season and placed on IR with a fractured right fibula. By the definition of the rule laid out above, Jackson would qualify for an immediate return, since his injury occurred after Week 8. This seems fishy. Jackson, who was medically cleared by February, could have conceivably returned had the Bills made the playoffs - or perhaps much sooner had his injury been less severe.
Imagine, for instance, that Stevie Johnson were to sprain his ankle in Week 10 next year. If we're using the loose terminology of the ruling above, the Bills could place Johnson on IR for a week, then take him back off a week later, giving themselves an extra roster spot in the interim for a relatively minor injury. That can't be right. Right?
It would make far more sense if the league implemented a mandatory waiting period for a player to return from IR, rather than making that determination based on points in the regular season. They've already sort of done that by building in a two-week barrier between a return to practice and a return to the gridiron; why not say that a player on IR needs to be there for a specific amount of time, like baseball does with its designated list? Had the report read "sixth game" instead of "sixth week of the schedule," it'd make far more sense to us.
What do you think? Are we reading between the lines incorrectly? Do you think Jackson would have been eligible to return had the rule, as we can interpret it now, been in effect last season? Is anyone else confused?