Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt has been placed on the injured reserve list, the team announced on Thursday.
Years ago, that meant the end of a player’s season, but things have changed pretty dramatically when it comes to how the NFL’s IR works these days.
Watt’s season is far from over. The Steelers can return up to eight players from the injured reserve list to the active roster over the course of a season.
Players that go on the injured reserve must be there for at least four weeks, so Watt will miss the team’s Week 2 game against the New England Patriots, Week 3 at the Cleveland Browns, Week 4 against the New York Jets and Week 5 against the Buffalo Bills by rule.
The earliest that he could possibly return to action is for Week 6, Oct. 16 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It seems more likely that Week 8 in Philadelphia against the Eagles or after the Steelers’ bye in Week 10 at home against the New Orleans Saints are potential return dates.
With Watt on the injured reserve list, he does not count against the Steelers’ 53-man roster limit, and they have already replaced him, signing David Anenih from the Tennessee Titans practice squad.
But both Anenih and Watt will still count against the Steelers’ salary cap figure. That’s one of the reasons the team restructured Watt’s contract before the start of the regular season, so that they can absorb additions such as Anenih’s throughout the season.
Watt cannot practice with the Steelers until three of the four weeks have passed. Once he returns to practice, he can only stay on injured reserve for 21 more days before the Steelers must move him to the active roster. So we will have a significant heads up about how Watt is progressing, based on when he returns to practice participation, and should expect a return to play no more than two or three weeks after that time.