The Cincinnati Bengals have managed to avoid many injuries heading into the start of training camp. However, a handful of players will open training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform or Non-Football Injury lists due to lingering injuries or offseason surgical procedures. There are some notable differences we’ll explain ahead regarding training camp injury lists and when training camp is over, the injury lists only get more complicated.
We break down the Active/PUP, Active NFI, Reserve/PUP, Injured Reserve and other roster designations to know if you’re a fan of the NFL.
Active/PUP and Active/NFI
Active/PUP relates to players who are unable to start training camp due to a football-related injury. Active/NFI is related to an injury that's non-football related, though it’s really just any injury sustained in either offseason workouts or a previous college injury, such as John Ross needing shoulder surgery as a result of an injury sustained in college. There are no rules governing the Active/PUP and Active/NFI players to sit out of practice for any designated amount of time. Once they are medically cleared to practice, they're allowed to practice at that moment.
At this point, any mention of PUP you're seeing around the NFL refers to the Active/PUP. This list enables players to eventually become eligible for the other PUP list, but it also allows players to come off PUP at any moment in training camp or the preseason. The same goes for Active/NFI designation.
The Reserve/NFI designation is applied to players during the regular season who will not return to the active roster for the first six weeks of the current season. Typically, this would be applied to rookies who enter the league with a pre-existing injury, or someone like John Pierre Paul of the Giants who injured his hand in a fireworks accident and missed time because of it.
Then there's the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform List, which is also used for the regular season. If by the end of the preseason, a player isn't medically cleared, he can be transferred to the Reserve/PUP, which prevents that player from playing and practicing during the first six weeks of the season.
The good news is PUP allows teams to apply roster exemptions while keeping their players under contract with the ability to play later in the season, which is why most teams apply PUP at the start of training camp for any injured players. If an injured player isn’t placed on PUP at the beginning of the year, a roster spot must be used on him, or he must be placed on IR. Once someone is activated from PUP onto the active roster, the team will have to make a corresponding move by releasing/waiving someone to open a spot.
By rule, players on Reserve/PUP and Reserve/NFI are excluded from practicing and playing during the first six weeks of the regular season. They're allowed to do conditioning work with the trainers -- similar to what they did during training camp on the Active/PUP list.
After six weeks are in the books, teams have another six week window for that player to begin practicing. If they're unable to practice when this window expires, they remain on the PUP list for the rest of the season. Once they do practice, teams have 21 days to make a decision:
1) Activate the player to the 53-man roster
2) Release/waive the player or
3) Do nothing and keep him on the PUP list. If teams maximize all their windows, a player could be held out and not activated until well into December, just like the Bengals did with AJ McCarron in 2014.
Players can only be placed on the PUP list prior to the start of Week 1. The designation is not available once the regular season begins. This is only for players who have injuries coming into an NFL season.
NFL teams are permitted to place any number of players on Injured Reserve. Any player placed on the IR list counts against the cap, but not against the roster limit. These players are ineligible to play again for the same team during the current season, but they can be cut and sign with another team. These players may not practice with the team at any time, but can attend team meetings and be around the team. This year for the first time, two NFL players from each team will be eligible to come off IR after eight weeks of being on the list...
Not everyone who ends up on IR has to see their season end for good. The NFL recently changed the IR-return designation so that teams are allowed to bring two players back from IR.
Previously, the rule allowed just one player to return from the list, though most teams have more than one injured player capable of returning at some point in the season.
That was a quandary the Bengals faced last year when running back Cedric Peerman and cornerback William Jackson III were both healthy enough to come off of IR, but Peerman ended up getting the one to get the only nod. Had this new rule been in place, both players would have been able to come off IR.
Last year, the NFL changed the IR with return designation so that you no longer have to designate the player who will get the designation at the time they are placed on the list. Now, teams can bring back any two players they've placed on IR at any time after the eight week mandate to be on the list has been met.
Previously, if a team wanted to use the one return designation spot, they had to declare it when the player was placed on IR. Now, they can just see who is getting healthy quickly, and take them off IR after they’ve been on the list for eight weeks (or more).
Players who have been suspended by the NFL are not eligible for PUP (unless they have a pre-existing injury situation that's keeping them out of practice). Suspended players are allowed to practice during the offseason and play in preseason games. This was the case with Vontaze Burfict last year. He was suspended for the first three games of the regular season, but he was still able to practice and play in the preseason (though the Bengals held him out of preseason games).
During final roster cuts, suspended players are moved to an inactive or reserve list and do not count against the 53-man roster limit. They are then disallowed from being around NFL team facilities while being forced to train on their own, absent from their teammates and coaches.
Adam Jones is currently suspended for Week 1 and will not count toward the initial 53-man roster. He will be allowed to rejoin the Bengals on the Monday after the team’s game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Reserve/Did Not Report
This is a pretty self-explanatory list. A player is placed on this list if he fails to report to training camp by the team-specified date. Teams have several measures at their disposal to deal with this, whether the cause is a holdout or just a player simply going AWOL.
Former NFL agent Joel Corry of CBSSports did a great breakdown on the fines that can be levied at a player on this list. The Bengals are not expected to have any issues with the Reserve/Did Not Report list.