It is that time of year where we must dust off the reminder of what the waived/injured designation means. The Jets used it on Devin Smith yesterday.
Whenever this comes up in the offseason, people are drawn to the “waived” part of the formula. There is this idea that a team is cutting a player because he got hurt. While I guess this is technically true, there is a reason teams do it.
League rules dictate that teams get 90 roster spots for training camp. Teams are allowed to keep these 90 players up until the third preseason game.
Up until this third preseason game, players with less than four years of service time must clear waivers to be placed on injured reserve. When a player is waived, the other 31 teams have a 24 hour window to claim that player and assume his contract. If no team claims a player with the waived/injured designation, he goes to injured reserve.
After a player is placed on injured reserve, he no longer counts as one of the 90 players on the roster so the team may sign a new player.
Why does this rule exist? In theory, it is designed from preventing teams from circumventing the system. Say there is a player you think has potential for the future but will not help your team this season. Simply stashing him on injured reserve gives you the chance to keep him for next year without using up a roster spot this season. That isn’t fair to the player who might be able to get playing time with another team.
The reason the system is silly is there seems to be an unwritten rule among the teams in the NFL not to claim the waived/injured players on other teams. If some other team claims one of the Jets’ guys, why wouldn’t the Jets claim a guy from that team the next time they use the waived/injured designation? There have been a few cases here and there of teams claiming waived/injured players, but it tends to be rare. This takes all of the teeth out of the rule.
It is worth keeping in mind that seeing a team has put the waived/injured designation on a player does not mean the team is done with that player. It is usually a sign the team wants to put a player on injured reserve.