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New Injured Reserve Rule May Affect Packers

by Mike Conklin

E-mail: mikeconklin@packerpedia.com
August 12, 2012


The loss of Desmond Bishop is a devastating blow to the Packers. The team mantra all offseason has been that they want to be a sound tackling team. Bishop is a tackling machine, finishing 13th in the NFL in tackles last season despite missing three games.

D.J. Smith appears to be an able understudy, and the Packers are a good enough team that this injury should not derail their playoff chances. But if there is any chance that Bishop could be back in time for a playoff run, it is an option that should be explored.

In the Super Bowl season two years ago, the Packers lost Ryan Grant in the season opener and Jermichael Finley in Week 5. In both cases, there were whispers that both players may have been able to come back in time for the playoffs. Even so, the Packers chose to place both of them on season-ending injured reserve.

It was a different story with Chad Clifton last year. Clifton injured his hamstring in Week 5, and the team knew right away that it was a "significant injury." It did not require surgery as is the case with Bishop, but the team realized Clifton would be out for a good portion of the regular season. The problem was compounded when it was announced nearly eight weeks later that Clifton had also developed a back injury. Even though his season was certainly in doubt by that time, the Packers kept him on their roster in hopes that he would return in time for the playoffs. Sure enough, his first game back was the playoff game against the Giants, but he was pulled from the game fairly quickly due to ineffectiveness. It is easy to say in hindsight, but in that case the Packers would have been better served if they had placed Clifton on injured reserve.

The dynamics were different in each of those situations, but it is interesting to note how differently the Packers treated Clifton's injury last year than they did the year before with Grant and Finley. If Grant and/or Finley were still around the facility late in 2010 and in good enough health that they could have played, it surely did not go unnoticed. It is impossible to say whether that had any bearing on the team's decision to keep Clifton on the roster all season the following year, but it is worth noting the chain of events.

This year the Packers will be challenged to handle another injury situation appropriately. Once again, the dynamics are different, and the situation is muddled even further by this year's proposed change to the Injured Reserve rules.

In offseason meetings earlier this year, the NFL owners voted to approve a change that would allow one injured player to be placed on the Injured Reserve list, yet still be eligible to come back later in the season. The injured player, designated as the "marquee player," would have to be on the 53-man roster after the final preseason cut, and would not be able to play until Week 9 at the earliest.

In some ways, it seems similar to the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, in that a player would not take up a roster spot during the regular season but still would be able to join the team at a later date. The biggest difference is that in order for a player to be eligible for the PUP list, he would never be cleared to practice even once throughout the entire training camp. In other words, the PUP list is designed more for players who are entering the season having previously been injured. Under the modified Injured Reserve rule, the "marquee player" could theoretically sustain the injury during training camp, be carried on Injured Reserve and not take up a roster spot all the way through Week 8, and then return to the team.

If there is any chance Desmond Bishop could make a recovery in time for a late season playoff run, it seems like an attractive option. But there is one more problem that muddles the situation even further: The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) has not yet approved this rule change.

Despite the fact that the NFL and NFLPA made nice for the cameras after agreeing to end last year's lockout, they still have a contentious relationship. Even though the owners approved this rule modification back in May, the union has not agreed to anything yet.

"Given the frosty recent relations from the sides and their ongoing litigation, even changes that would seem to benefit both sides don't come easy,” writes Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports. “With issues like HGH testing still unresolved and the union seeking ways to find tradeoffs in order to curb commissioner discipline, this is a climate in which it appears there will need to be quid pro quo even on non-controversial matters.”

Teams are still waiting for clarity on the matter, and just received a memo from the league last Thursday stating that they might not be able to designate players to this list as expected. Even if the NFLPA approves the change in time for it to be effective this season, it is unclear how it will affect the situation with Bishop.

At first glance it seems like it would be an easy decision to designate Bishop as the "marquee player," as long as no other players are injured between now and the beginning of the season. Bishop is one of the true difference makers on the defensive side of the ball, and if there is a chance that he could return down the playoff stretch the team would certainly benefit from his presence. After all, if there is anything the Packers learned from last year, it's that the regular season doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. The 2011 Packers will not be remembered for their scintillating 15-1 record. They will be remembered for how quickly they were eliminated from the playoffs.

The issue at hand is whether there will even be a small chance Bishop could return at all. From the information we have gathered, it appears that the Packers will know more once the surgery takes place because the full extent of the injury may not be able to be determined until then. Even so, Mike McCarthy did not sound positive when he spoke about the situation.

“Unfortunately, the hamstring injury was what we feared,” said McCarthy. “Surgery is imminent, and Desmond’s season is in jeopardy. Once we have the surgery, we’ll have a better idea on his status for this season.”

For team that usually remains mum on injuries, for McCarthy to say that Bishop's season is in jeopardy is a strong statement. That does not bode well for his future this season.

The Packers will be anxiously awaiting to hear news from the NFLPA on whether or not the modified Injured Reserve rule will be approved. If it is indeed approved, they are certainly considering whether or not it would be the best thing to do with Bishop.

“That’s an option. We’ve talked about a number of those options,” McCarthy said. “Frankly, it’s the medical operation that will drive that decision."

As is often the case with injuries, it appears the Packers are just going to have to wait to find out more.


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Photo Credit: Associated Press