As silly as it may seem at first glance, the otherwise mundane administrative move of putting quarterback Aaron Rodgers back on injured reserve is worth a closer look. There is a reason other teams are crying foul, and it appears that the league is just waiting for enough time to pass that few will notice that the Packers probably are getting away with something.
First let’s be clear about some NFL rules. A player activated from IR with a designation to return may not be placed on permanent IR unless he has suffered a “new” injury that would sideline him for at least six weeks. If found in violation of that, the team is obligated to release the player when healthy.
That’s the letter of the law, and here’s the Rodgers timeline:
He broke his right collarbone on October 15th, and was subsequently put on IR (DR) and had surgery to repair it. He hurried back to be activated on December 16th, with the Packers betting that a not-fully-healed Rodgers still gave them the best chance for an outside run at a playoff spot. Hopes were dashed, however, as he threw three interceptions and was knocked around in a loss that week to the Panthers, and the Packers were eliminated from contention. With the season effectively over, Rodgers was moved back to IR.
Only the Packers forgot to go out of their way to make it clear that he had suffered any kind of new or different injury, with coach Mike McCarthy explaining it as “rest and recovery mode” and describing his “distinct rehab plan.”
All they would have needed was a couple sentences of medical mumbo-jumbo from the team orthopedist describing some kind of new complication on a vague technicality just different enough from the original fracture. Even calling it a re-injury of some kind might have been satisfactory to fulfill such obligation, but the Packers were either unaware of the specifics of the rule or were arrogant enough to think that it would never be enforced pursuant to a player of the stature of Rodgers.
And it looks like the latter is proving true, regardless, with the NFL directing inquiries on the subject back to the Packers, who continue to insist that they did nothing wrong even though it’s pretty clear that they did.
I get it, of course, the distinct improbability that the league would want to come down hard regarding some arcane paperwork regulations, igniting a national firestorm as one of the best players in its history suddenly hits the open market and becomes subject to the waiver-claiming process. Not to mention that the Packers argue that they received league approval, technically, upon the move being allowed to go through in the first place.
But this is the same league that gave us the insufferable tedium of a notorious partially-deflated balls scandal. Remember, the one that literally made a federal case over the pressure and temperature components of the ideal gas law and embroiled another historical champion of a quarterback in months of headlines and courtroom drama.
Against such a backdrop of precedent, the other NFL franchises raising the issue could ask the league office quite reasonably – if that, then why not this?