clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Explaining PUP, NFI, IR and other NFL roster designations

Everything you need to know about the many roster designations an NFL player can receive heading into the regular season.

Atlanta Falcons v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

What are Injured/Reserve, Physically Unable to Perform and the Non-Football Injury list?

As NFL rosters are formed, dozens of players around the league will be given these designations ahead of Week 1 of the NFL regular season. We’re here to break down the all of these different injury lists, as well as other roster designations (like the Reserve/Suspended list) to know as we head into the new NFL season. Keep in mind, after rosters are formed the Physically Unable to Perform designation can no longer be used on players.

The Bengals could be putting a few different players on Injured Reserve ahead of Week 1. Why wait until after the 53-man roster is created? We’ll explain that and much more below.

Physically Unable to Perform (PUP)

If a player who was on the Active/PUP list during training camp isn’t cleared to play by the end of the preseason, he can be transferred to the Reserve/PUP list, which prevents that player from playing and practicing during the first six weeks of the NFL season. Players are only eligible for the regular-season PUP list if they were on the Active/PUP list all summer and did not play or practice with their team at any point.

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 Injured/Reserve (IR) to start the season (more on that below). Once someone is activated from PUP onto the active roster, the team will have to make a corresponding roster move by releasing/waiving someone to open a spot. Again, if a player is on PUP to start the season, they cannot play before Week 7 of the regular season.

By rule, players on Reserve/PUP list 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. If and when they do practice during that additional six-week window, 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.

Non-Football Injury (NFI)

The non-football injury (NFI) list is reserved for players who suffer an injury outside of the NFL. That could mean they’re in a car accident, suffer an injury at home or suffer an injury during college that carries over to the NFL. For example, when Cedric Ogbuehi entered the NFL with a torn ACL, the Bengals started him on the NFI list in his rookie year. The NFI list prevents players from practicing or playing. The rules for the NFI list are the same as for the PUP list. If cleared from the NFI list, they can’t go back on the list — this is true of the PUP list, too.

Injured Reserve (IR)

NFL teams are permitted to place any number of players on Injured Reserve at the start of the season. Any player on the IR list counts against the salary cap, but not against the 53-man roster limit. These players are ineligible to play again for the same team during the current season, but they can be cut and then go on to sign with another team. These players may not practice with their team at any time, but can attend team meetings and be around the team. Last year for the first time the NFL changed the IR rules to allow for two NFL players from each team to be eligible to come off IR after eight weeks of being on the list...

IR-Return Designation

Not everyone who ends up on IR has to see their season end for good. Players must remain on IR for eight weeks before being eligible to rejoin their teams in Week 9 via the IR-Return Designation. The NFL changed the IR-return designation in 2017 so that teams are allowed to bring two players back from IR. Previously, the rule allowed just one player to return from the list.

This was a great change for teams as most clubs have more than one injured player capable of returning at some point in the season.

In 2016, the Bengals had an unfortunate situation in which 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 IR-return 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).

One constraint here is that a player must be on the 53-man roster in Week 1 to be eligible for the IR designation to return. That means, anyone who was placed on IR before roster cuts were made to trim the roster down to 53 players is not eligible.

For example, the Bengals used a roster spot on quarterback Jeff Driskel in 2017, but he was moved on IR two days later, making him eligible for the return designation. The Bengals did bring him back later on in the season once he was healthy.


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.

During final roster cuts, suspended players are moved to the Reserve/Suspended list and do not count against the 53-man roster limit. They are not allowed to be around NFL team facilities while being forced to train on their own, absent from their teammates and coaches.

Vontaze Burfict is suspended for Weeks 1-4 and will not count toward the Bengals’ 53-man roster during that gime. He will be allowed to rejoin the Bengals on the Monday after the team’s Week 4 game against the Atlanta Falcons. Corresponding roster moves must be made for players on the Reserve/Suspended list once their suspensions are over and they’re ready to re-join their teams.