You probably have noticed through the preseason players being listed as waived/injured. For example, the Jets waived/injured Matthew Tucker to make room on their roster to sign Lache Seastrunk a few weeks back. It typically happens after a player suffers a serious injury.
Is this a sign of how cruel the world of the NFL is that teams just waive players for getting hurt? That isn't exactly how it works.
Until the first round of preseason cuts, teams cannot place certain players on Injured Reserve unless they clear waivers.
The first cutdown occurs after the third set of preseason games. This year, the first cutdown deadline is August 30 at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.
Prior to this point, any player with less than four years of NFL service time, must clear waivers to be placed on injured reserve. That is to say, the 31 other teams have a chance to claim that player. They are notified of the player's injury. Only if nobody claims that player may the team place the player on IR, retain his services for the future, and open up a roster spot for a healthy player.
Teams do not have to place an injured player on IR after he clears waivers. They can also reach what is known as an injury settlement, essentially paying the player for however much time he will need to recover. Once an injury settlement is reached, the player becomes a free agent and does not count against the active roster.
Why do things work this way?
As best I can tell, this is in place to prevent teams from cheating the system...at least to a certain degree. Let's think about the Jets hypothetically. We know Jalin Marshall, Robby Anderson, and Charone Peake are all rookies battling for a roster spot. The Jets might not have enough spots to keep all of them.
Maybe somebody would get the idea of sticking Peake on IR then if he has a hangnail. That could help the Jets since Peake would not be taking up a roster spot but would remain under Jets control for next season. It wouldn't really be fair to Peake, though, since he would be losing out on developmental practice reps and perhaps a chance to play for a team that could use him. So to place him on IR at this point, the Jets would have to expose him to a waiver claim.
So what's to stop another team from claiming a star rookie who gets hurt?
Let's say the Jets have a really promising rookie who tears his ACL. What would stop the Eagles from claiming him after the Jets put the player on waivers? The player might not help the Eagles this season, but surely could be a viable long-term investment.
In the NFL, there seems to be an unwritten agreement that teams do not claim the injured player of other teams. There is an element of mutually assured destruction. Don't claim our guys, and we won't claim yours.
If the Eagles claimed a talented young injured player from the Jets, what do you think would happen the first time the Eagles tried to sneak a talented injured player through waivers?
There have been exceptions, such as when the Patriots claimed tight end Jake Ballard from the Giants in 2012 after the tight end tore his ACL. For the most part, teams lay off injured players of others and expect the same courtesy in return.
The general idea remains that there at least remains some theoretical risk for teams trying to move a young player onto IR even if it seldom plays out that way in practice.
I'm not sure this is necessarily the most logical system. There are some pretty clear contradictions, but it is the one we have. At the very least know that a team is not being callous the next time you see an injured player receive the injured/waived designation. It is a necessary roster move.