Whether it’s due to suspension, a stint on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and maybe a new rule that will allow one player to come off injured reserve, the Packers will have to handle an unprecedented situation in team history with several players currently on the roster joining the team in the midst of the regular season.
Let’s start with what we know: the suspended players. Defensive linemen Anthony Hargrove, Mike Neal and linebacker Erik Walden are all suspended for the start of the regular season for differing amounts of time: Walden for one game, Neal for four games and Hargrove for eight.
It’s possible Hargrove receives an injunction from federal court that prevents him from being suspended between now and the start of Week 1, but barring that, he’ll be out for the first half of the season.
None of the three suspended players will count against the 53-man roster during the time they’re suspended, and they can continue to practice with the Packers for the remainder of training camp.
Once the regular season begins, they’ll have to cease contact with the Packers until their suspension is over. And once the suspension is over, the Packers can decide either to put them on their 53-man roster or cut them. If the suspended players are brought back to the 53-man roster, the Packers will have to make room for them, either by cutting a player or placing someone on injured reserve.
The Packers also have two players that would appear to be good candidates to begin the regular season on the PUP list in tackle Derek Sherrod and tight end Andrew Quarless.
It’s not a given that they’ll begin the season on the PUP list, and both are probably hoping for an earlier return, the the most realistic situation is that they won’t be ready or the Packers won’t be willing to risk their health so early in the season.
First of all, a player must begin training camp on the PUP list in order to begin the regular season on the PUP list, meaning someone like Desmond Bishop is not eligible.
If a player begins the regular season on the PUP list, they must sit out the first six weeks of the season. After six weeks they can return to practice, and the Packers would have a maximum of three weeks to decide whether to assign them to the 53-man roster or cut them.
You might remember in 2010 when James Starks was eventually activated off the PUP list, but veteran cornerback Al Harris was released.
Just like the players coming off suspension, the Packers would hypothetically have to make room for Sherrod and Quarless on the 53-man roster either by cutting someone or placing someone on injured reserve.
Linebacker Frank Zombo and defensive lineman Johnny Jones are also candidates for the PUP list, but seem less likely options to remain there as opposed to Sherrod and Quarless.
That brings us to the proposed new rule in the NFL that would allow one player to come off injured reserve and be eligible to play after the first eight weeks of the season. Apparently, the rule has still not been approved by the players’ union, although it’s possible it still could.
The new rule would allow the Packers to designate an injured player such as Bishop or cornerback Davon House come off injured reserve to practice after six weeks and return to play after eight weeks, while replacing them on the 53-man roster in the meantime.
Under the proposed rule, every team would have to designate a particular player that is the one and only person eligible to come off injured reserve, but teams can’t even designate that player until after Week 1 of the regular season.
Like the situations listed above, the Packers would also have to make room on the 53-man roster for the player coming off injured reserve.
It may work out in such a way that following Week 1 when Walden is set to come back from suspension that Green Bay could then designate someone like Bishop or House as their player to come off injured reserve, temporarily having to avoid cutting someone to make room for Walden.
But if the new injured reserve rule is not approved, the Packers would have a choice to make, either enter Week 1 with only 52 players on their roster, cut a player when Walden comes back or cut Walden altogether.
With the potential for so many players coming off suspension or the PUP, it will be interesting to see how the Packers manage their roster. Throughout the course of the season players will invariably become injured and will need to be placed on injured reserve, but will the timing work out such that the players ready to return to the 53-man roster will be activated at the same time someone is placed on injured reserve?
By placing players on season-ending injured reserve, the Packers could theoretically retain the rights to more players than past seasons.
It remains a very fluid situation and one the Packers will probably deal with on an as-needed basis. After all, they still have some time to determine the fate of players like Bishop.
If you count suspended defensive lineman Johnny Jolly, that only adds one more player to the list of players potentially returning at midseason.
So far, the entire list of players that could join the 53-man roster during the regular season includes Walden, Hargrove, Neal, Sherrod, Quarless, Zombo, Jones, Jolly and potentially one injured reserve player for a total of nine individuals. It would highly unlikely that all nine of them will join the 53-man roster throughout the course of the season, but this should give an idea of how unique this circumstance is.
The Packers will have to weight the pros and cons very carefully whether it’s worth keeping rookies like Andrew Datko and Terrell Manning only to cut them in a few weeks time when the injured and suspended players are eligible to return.