When an NFL player is placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, it does not mean his career is over. Instead, there is a procedure that participants must follow in order to resume playing. What exactly is the PUP List? The PUP list is used by National Football League teams as a way to get injured players back on the field without having them miss time for injury.
The term "PUP" is short for "Physically Useless Player." A player can be put on the list for several reasons: he may have a long-term injury as a result of their play; or they may have had enough games missed due to injury; or perhaps they were deemed "useless" during some game film study. However painful the injury may be for the player, it can't get any worse or longer than it already is. Once a player is removed from the list, they can then be added to the active roster or reserve list.
Teams usually want to bring these players back as soon as possible so they can get back into game shape and prepare for the next season. However, certain injuries may take more time to heal than others. For example, someone who has had their knee repaired might not be ready for contact until after the first round of playoffs.
After Week 6 of the regular season, players on the PUP list can be activated or placed on injured reserve. As of 2018, NFL players can begin practicing after week 6 but cannot be activated until their club has played eight games. A player who is activated during these weeks will be able to play in the remaining two games of the season.
Since all 32 teams have now played six games, every team has an opportunity to finish the season with an IR spot. In other words, there is no longer a need for one of those spots to be filled by a new player due to contract limitations.
However, a number of players still remain on their clubs' PUP lists and may not see game action this season. Here is the status of all 32 teams as of mid-November:
Arizona Cardinals (5): LB Vontaze Burfict, WR Larry Fitzgerald, DT Darnell Dockett, OT Evan Mathis, C Jason Peters
Baltimore Ravens (4): CB Cary Williams, G Ben Grubbs, DT Michael Bennett, RB Justin Forsett
Buffalo Bills (3): S Corey Graham, DE Kyle Williams, C Erik Walden
The Reserve/physically unable to perform list is a short-term list that includes players who were unable to pass their physical when they arrived at camp. Players with this status are not included toward the team's 90-man roster. Players on this list are ineligible for the first six weeks of the regular season and are not permitted to practice. The Titans placed Taylor Lewan on the reserve/physically unable to perform list on July 28, 2015.
Titans general manager Jon Robinson said after placing Lewan on the PUP list that they will reevaluate his status after week 6. If he is still on the list after week 6 then he will be eligible to return to play. However, if he clears the list before week 6 then he cannot return until the next year's draft.
Players can be put on the reserve/physically unable to perform list if they have a major injury that requires surgery or prolonged rest to recover from. Some examples of this include: knee, shoulder, elbow, hip, and neck injuries.
Once a player has been placed on the reserve/physically unable to perform list, they can be removed from it at any time before they start practicing again. This allows them to heal up without playing right away. A player can also be removed from the list during the season if they are able to pass a physical exam or if they are no longer physically unable to perform all of their duties.
NFL regulations apply. A player who is "not immediately available for involvement with a club" may be placed on injured reserve (reserve/injury list) by a team. Teams may also place a player on injured reserve with a minor injury classification, but the player must be released after he has recovered. If a player remains on injured reserve after being classified as such, then the team has lost its chance to claim it off of another team's active roster. The player can be removed from injured reserve at any time before Week 1; however, if he is not activated by that team, he will have to sit out the entire season.
When a player is placed on injured reserve, a new spot opens up on the active roster. So even though a player is injured and cannot play, a team can still decide to keep him on the active roster in order to have some insurance in case someone else gets hurt or performs poorly. A player can be activated before Week 1 provided that his injury is confirmed valid by the team doctor and he passes a physical examination. Otherwise, he will have to stay on the reserve/injured list.
Being inactive in the NFL means that you are unable to play due to an injury. It does not matter how long you are inactive, once your team places you on injured reserve, you cannot play until you are reinstated by that team. This rule was created because anyone who is injured could potentially end up suffering from long-term effects from their injury.
Active/PUP is a preseason designation for players who have sustained or are recuperating from offseason ailments. They can practice and play as soon as their respective team's medical department clears them. The Reserve/PUP position is utilized throughout the regular season. A player in this status may be activated at any time by his team.
The designation was created by the NFL in 1998 to help balance the number of starters on teams. That year, all 32 teams had an "average" number of players on injured reserve (IR). To compensate for some of these injuries, each team was given four additional spots on their active roster for a total of 75. These additional players could come from any other spot on the roster, including the practice squad. Teams could use these extra slots either to fill out their own injured reserves or to replace players lost through free agency or retirement.
In addition to those four openings, there were three other positions that needed to be filled by another player: the starting quarterback, two starting wide receivers, and a starting tight end. Each team was required to have a minimum of 13 players on its active roster during the regular season. If a team had more than 13 players on its active roster, it would have to cut one of its inactive players.
Teams can place players on injured reserve during the season, after they've played in at least four games.