Updated rule gives Drew Sanders an increased chance to return this season

The NFL updated the injured reserve return rule, which could benefit players who get injured before the season.
Denver Broncos
Denver Broncos / Justin Edmonds/GettyImages

Back in May, Mike Klis reported that Denver Broncos second-year linebacker Drew Sanders, who had a disappointing rookie season, suffered a torn Achilles injury at the start of the Broncos offseason programs in April before the 2024 NFL Draft. Following Josey Jewell's departure to the Carolina Panthers in free agency, Sanders could have had an increased chance of starting as an inside linebacker next to Alex Singleton.

Denver signed Cody Barton in free agency and has Jonas Griffith back from injury. Additionally, they signed Levelle Bailey as an undrafted free agent, who is performing well this offseason. Regarding Sanders, his injury occurred in April, projecting his potential return at some point during the upcoming season. This possibility could be increased even if Sanders starts the season on the IR (which is expected) thanks to an update to the injured reserve return designation rule announced by the NFL on Thursday, June 20.

Teams can now bring back 10 players from injured reserve, according to the memo. The update allows teams to activate eight players during the regular season and two additional activations during the postseason. Furthermore, if the team qualifies for the playoffs, they can carry over any unused regular season designations. If a specific player gets injured twice, two designations will count from the eight, which means that teams are not allowed to designate an extra player to return from the injured reserve list if the eight were already used.

An important part of the change in the rule clarifies my point regarding Drew Sanders' return. Two players can be placed on the injured reserve list before the 53-man roster is announced instead of one. This is not forcing the players to miss the entire season, as happened with Tim Patrick last year. Before this update, every player in the IR before the 53-man roster announcement was ruled out for the season, which is why safety PJ Locke made the roster and was instantly placed in the IR, so he could return after a minimum of four games.

Sanders will likely start the season on the injured reserve list, and with this update, there is no need for Denver to list his injury as a season-ending one, as he could return at some point during the season. The rule says that a player on the list must be out at least four games; Sanders could be out for more, but that does not mean that he has a season-ending injury.

This rule update can be very helpful for all 32 teams and players in situations such as Sanders'. For the Broncos, it will allow them to put their talented second-year linebacker on IR before the 53-man roster is announced and cover that spot with an additional player without having Sanders miss the entire season.